Trial Court Ordered to Hold Evidentiary Hearing
If you talk to one of Michigan’s child protection team doctors, you will get the impression that there is no controversy (and never has been) about Shaken Baby Syndrome theories. Unfortunately for Michigan parents, many trial judges continue to think that way as well. Fortunately, Michigan appellate courts DO recognize the controversial nature of a shaking diagnosis. The latest example of this came in the form of a Michigan Court of Appeals decision in People v. Miller. This case went to trial in Calhoun County (Battle Creek) in 2003. The ruling can be read here.
The Miller case demonstrates the worst horrors imaginable for a Michigan parent. Tonia Joyce Miller was prosecuted for the death of her 11-week-old daughter in 2001 and found guilty of second-degree murder at the conclusion of her jury trial. For most of us, we can’t even imagine losing one of our children unexpectedly. Ms. Miller endured this loss and also found herself serving a 20 to 30-year prison sentence.
The prosecution rested on a theory. No, not a medical fact; a theory. The theory is that you can accurately diagnose Shaken Baby Syndrome or Abusive Head Trauma when three conditions are present: subdural hematoma, retinal hemorrhages and brain swelling. (Today, it is even worse. Many Child Abuse Pediatricians (CAPs) make the same diagnosis when only one of these three conditions are present.)
Currently, Ms. Miller’s defense team is in possession of an affidavit from a highly competent medical examiner who has testified that her child died from pneumonia. There are also affidavits from several child abuse experts who have testified that since the 2003 trial, the science has developed and changed in significant ways. As a result, we now understand that the medical conditions that Ms. Miller’s child had can be explained by purely medical causes. Sadly, that new information was not enough to get Tonia Miller a new trial, or even an evidentiary hearing from the trial court. The new development, however, is that the Michigan Court of Appeals has ordered the trial court to hold an evidentiary hearing examining the newly available evidence and has thrown the trial judge off the case. Ms. Miller is not out of the woods yet. The evidentiary hearing will only decide whether she is entitled to a new trial. Ms. Miller may still have to serve out the rest of her sentence in a Michigan prison.
Here’s hoping Ms. Miller prevails and a new trial is granted. But what about the timing of the injuries and the role played by Ms. Miller’s confession? I will address this in Part Two.
If you or someone you love is accused of shaking a child, you need the help of a competent attorney well-versed in the theories and defense of Shaken Baby Syndrome and Abusive Head Trauma. Contact the attorneys of Cronkright Law, PLLC. We are here to help.