What Might a Person Accused of Child Abuse Experience?
Interviewer: What could you tell us about someone’s emotional state? What insight have you gained as far as the client that you’re working with, from beginning of the case to the end?
Paul Cramm: First and foremost the client just feels a tremendous amount of responsibility, even if they know that they did not do anything to actively harm the child. They have to wonder, “Should I have put the child in a different position? Should I have kept the child on my lap for 10 more minutes after feeding, would he not have, in this case, regurgitated and choked?”
“Should I have checked on the child more frequently? If I would have checked 10 minutes sooner, would the child be okay today? Did he roll over on his belly and stop breathing and if I would have checked sooner I’d know that?”
Feeling Guilty Is Not an Acknowledgement of Guilt
The person experiences a tremendous amount of self-blame for what they didn’t do. That’s not an acknowledgment of guilt for anything they did do. I think you just need to give your client some space and some time to come to terms with what has happened before they’re able to really be a meaningful participant in their own defense.
You really need that person to help shape the defense, shape the story that the jury needs to know about what happened. You need that client to be able to participate meaningfully with you in the defense. In many of these cases, the clients going to need some time to get their head around what has happened before they can participate meaningfully in structuring the defense.
In the Event of a Child’s Death, Will the Prosecutor Charge the Individual with First Degree Murder?
Interviewer: Is it likely that the individual will be charged with first degree murder charge?
A Serious Initial Charge Does Allow Some Room for Negotiation
Paul Cramm: If the child has died, if we have a loss of life case, I find that oftentimes the prosecution will charge the first degree charge. This does allow the prosecutor some room to negotiate and to engage in plea negotiations. It gives them room to move down.
Perhaps they’ll say, “Well, we’ll amend this from first degree down to second degree” or “Perhaps we’ll amend this to involuntary manslaughter.” I think that by charging the more serious offense at the time the case is filed, most prosecutors feel as though they are giving themselves room to work. Usually, this is in hope of getting some sort of a plea disposition prior to trial.
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