What Are the Possible Sentence Ranges for a Shaken Baby Case in Johnson County, Kansas?
Interviewer: What is the difference in sentences if the charge is reduced?
Paul Cramm: With first degree murder, at least in Kansas, your first degree charge would result, if convicted, in a sentence of life in prison. It’s up to the judge to determine, based on the statute, how long you must wait before you’re eligible for a parole hearing.
If someone is found guilty of abuse of a child that results in death and if they’re found guilty of first degree murder of that child, they need to serve 20 years of their sentence before they’re eligible for a parole hearing.
If the charge is second degree murder, they would be sentenced according to the Kansas sentencing guidelines. They’d be charged with severity level 1 offense. Their sentencing range would start in a 12 to 14 month range, if they have no criminal history. That’s a sentence for which, at the conclusion of the term they are released. They’re not relying on the parole board to find some clemency and release them.
If we are able to negotiate for involuntary manslaughter, an involuntary manslaughter charge would carry a sentence with no prior criminal history of 31 to 34 months or perhaps 34 to 38 months. There’s a lot of room to work and a wide range of sentencing depending on the degree of culpability that the prosecutor can or cannot prove.
Interviewer: With an involuntary manslaughter conviction, is it going to be specified to a child? What if a potential employer views the person’s criminal record?
Paul Cramm: The charge itself would simply be involuntary manslaughter. Someone would need to actively research the case to find out what the underlying facts or circumstances are.
Any Conviction Involving Loss of Life Is not Eligible to Be Expunged
Interviewer: With people that have involuntary manslaughter chargers, are they able to eventually get those charges appealed or expunged?
Paul Cramm: The general rule is that in any case involving loss of life, those charges are not eligible for expungement. Whether it’s intentional or involuntary, those types of charges, the general rule is that they will not be eligible for expungement from one’s criminal record.
Is It Possible to Have a Child Abuse Charge Lowered to Negligence?
Interviewer: Could you get it reduced to something as simple as negligence or a similar charge?
Paul Cramm: That would probably depend largely on the facts of each case and how strong the prosecutor’s case is. I’ve found in my experience that prosecutors generally don’t make plea negotiation decisions based upon a guiding sense of right and wrong, fair or not fair.
Sadly, I find that most prosecutors make decision regarding plea agreement based upon how strong is the case and what is the likelihood that I might lose the case if we proceed with trial.
When the Prosecutor Is Aware That the Defense Attorney Is Ready to Go to Trial and Capably Defend the Client—That May Influence Them to Tender a More Favorable Plea Offer
I think that the more work and the higher quality work that defense counsel can do in any case, will have a far greater impact on the likelihood that the prosecutor may extend a favorable or reasonable plea offer. I think if the attorney presents the very real ability to try this case and to try it very well, that will put your client in a much better position. Those actions can result in a more favorable plea option rather than simply waiting and hoping for some sense of fair or right and wrong by the prosecutor.
It Can Be Helpful to the Client to Play an Active Role in Preparing the Defense with the Attorney
Interviewer: You discussed about how a client’s emotional state will waiver or they’re going to be pretty intense, but what are some things that you do to help a client? What are some things that you do to help remove that emotional aspect?
Paul Cramm: I think the earlier you can work together on selecting the correct expert witness to provide a case review, the better. The client hires the lawyer. In most cases the client will hire the lawyer with whom they feel most comfortable and most confident. But, they understand that the lawyer is their advocate.
Sometimes when I, as counsel, do my best to tell someone, “I don’t think you did anything wrong. I don’t think you meant for this to happen.” I think the client wants to hear that and they’re glad to hear that, but because they expect to hear that, it doesn’t have the same value to them, emotionally as a third party. That statement has greater impact when it comes from a clinician, a physician, a pediatrician, who does not know them and does not know their child.
If that third party, with all of his knowledge and expertise, reviews the case thoroughly and writes a thorough case summary that concludes, “I do not believe these injuries are the result of mistreatment, abuse or trauma.” That goes a long way to giving my client some sense of relief and some sense of vindication. Then, they’re much more able to focus on the take at hand, which is working with me as their lawyer to build their defense.
I’m always in favor of involving a qualified expert as early as possible, so that my client can hear from an independent neutral and well educated third party what the real cause of the injury was.
The Defense Attorney Initially May Ask the Client to Construct a Timeline of Events
Interviewer: What are some things that you would advise a client that would help their case?
Paul Cramm: Certainly, constructing a very accurate timeline of events for their lawyer. That’s something you’re going to have to do after the fact. They might not be thinking in those terms when this terrible, frightening event is happening.
As soon as possible, I want my client to sit down in a quiet, comfortable place, whether that’s my office or their home, and try to construct a timeline. This should include a minute by minute, event by event, moment by moment account of what happened leading up to the 911 call. I really want my client to try to put together a very thorough and very detailed time line for me.
Again, it’s always important that the client limit, if not completely eliminate any and all discussions with others about the case. They only have privilege with their lawyer. To the extent their explaining themselves, even to close family members, relatives or neighbors, those persons could be called as witnesses to testify about what my client said to them. Because it would be deemed a statement against interest, I would not be able to keep that statement out with a hearsay objection.
I think it’s very important that my client learn to limit their discussions about the details of the case, to discussions with me as counsel. We’re going to put together a time line. We’re going to reconstruct what happened and we’re going to keep all of our information to ourselves, so we don’t violate or breech privilege.
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