What Should You Say If You Are Being Questioned by the Police about an Alleged Child Abuse Situation Involving Shaken Baby Syndrome?
Interviewer: Let’s say, I’m in the hospital with a child. Then, the police officers come and interrogate me. What should I tell them? What information should I give them? How should I put it? What exactly should be said at that point?
You Must Tell the Medical Staff Everything You Know about the Child’s Condition to Ensure They Receive the Proper Medical Care
Paul Cramm: I think that first and foremost, you want to tell the care providers, you want to tell the emergency responders and physicians everything you know about what has led up to that child’s condition. First and foremost, before we start thinking about the case, we want that child to be okay. We want that child to survive whatever medical complication the child has. We need care providers have all the information they have to render quality care to that child.
Once we have told the care providers everything that we know, everything they need to render the appropriate care, now it’s time to shift gears. When the person talking to you is wearing a pair of scrubs, I think it’s far better to answer questions completely and truthfully, than when the person is wearing a uniform with a badge.
It Is Advisable to Ask to Speak with Your Attorney When Law Enforcement Arrives
As soon as the folks with the scrubs go back into the emergency room to do their job and the person is being interviewed by law enforcement that is an excellent time to ask to speak with counsel.
Interviewer: At that point they can contact a lawyer or leave a message, depending on the time of night it is?
Paul Cramm: Absolutely and just tell law enforcement, “I won’t be answering anymore questions about this until after I’ve spoken with my attorney.” So many people have said to me, “Well gosh, won’t that just make me look guilty if I invoke my right to have a lawyer.”
Interviewer: Yes. What do you tell them?
Is Asking for an Attorney Going to Make You Appear Guilty? You Have a Constitutional Right to Have an Attorney
Paul Cramm: You have two options. You can invoke your constitutional right to have a lawyer, a right our founding fathers fought and died for. Or, you can answer all these questions and have every single syllable of every single word you utter, introduced to the jury in open court. If those are the only two options on the table, which option is going to make you look guilty?
Having every word you’ve said twisted and used against you and having every single insignificant inconsistency turned around as evasiveness or deception? Or, making no statement at all because you waited to speak with a lawyer, which by the constitution, you’re entitled to?
I think the risk of derailing your defense by talking without counsel, to police is ten times greater than the risk that someone might infer something negative by consulting with counsel.
Cases Where the Alleged Abuser Is a Minor First Are Heard in Juvenile Court
Interviewer: How are cases handled if there was a minor involved, such as a babysitter rather than an adult?
Paul Cramm: Certainly, they’re going to have to be charged initially in the juvenile court. There is a process by which juvenile respondents go through, which is what they call them rather than defendants, juvenile respondents. There is a process by which juvenile respondents may be waived or passed over to adult court for formal adult prosecution, but that has to happen in the juvenile court.
There is an evidentiary proceeding. Evidence needs to be considered and presented before the judge in the juvenile court makes the decision that the juvenile respondent should be prosecuted as an adult. In a case where it’s a younger care provider, a babysitter, a sibling, a neighbor, absolutely I want to be involved in the case very early. I want to see if there’s any way that we can keep that case in the juvenile court system, where I believe the system is more structured to rehabilitation, than punishment.
As with Adults, the Juveniles in These Cases Are Viewed as Being Guilty by the General Public
These are the types of cases that bring out the most negative suspicions of the public. Public response is immediately one of presumed guilt, “Now prove to me you didn’t do it.” Rather than presumed innocence and then looking at the prosecution for proof that it actually happened. These are tough cases and there is no doubt about it.
Interviewer: Do you think that if cases like this were left to the public, you would see many innocent people found guilty and suffering for this?
Paul Cramm: Unquestionably. There are no shortages of very well documented actual innocence exonerations in these cases. This is because the medical science in recent years really has moved away from the shaken baby syndrome as a valid medical theory. There are very strong, very well developed, very reliable opinions to the contrary. Those opinions and views have only come forward in recent years.
When shaken baby syndrome, as a diagnosis, evolved throughout the ’70s and ’80s, conviction was almost automatic. What we’re now looking at are people who were accused and convicted in the ’80s and early ’90s. These people’s cases are being reviewed by actual innocence teams.
There have been several actual innocence exonerations for folks, who in hindsight were convicted with practically no forensic medical evidence at all. It was essentially a witch hunt. We do see that.
It’s very encouraging to see that current legal and medical science is really slowing down and taking a much more careful and circumspect look at these cases before innocent people are convicted.
In Recent Times, Increased Exposure to the Dangers of Presuming People Guilty Rather than Innocent Has Started to Change the Public’s Perception
Interviewer: That’s pretty amazing that some of these cases are actually looked at now and it can lead to exonerations.
Do you feel that the general public are changing their attitude towards this or viewing it a little differently now?
Paul Cramm: I think that because of such things as cable TV, cable news programs and the Internet, people are exposed to exponentially more information today than they were exposed to 20 or 30 years ago. At that time, we had three major networks and no Internet.
This can be illustrated when you are conducting jury selection for a case like this. It is possible to find several people who are poled for jury duty to say that yes, they have seen a story on the news about someone who was exonerated or found to be factually innocent of a charge like this.
I think before it was hard to find jurors who were familiar with the competing or countervailing evidence against this charge. Now, communication is so fast and so rapid. It’s more prevalent that you’ll have jurors who will say, “Yes, I saw a special on Dateline about someone who was wrongfully convicted without sufficient evidence.”
You get your jurors talking about that during jury selection. That’s what you need to do to have them become receptive to the idea that maybe this person is innocent and maybe this person isn’t guilty. It’s a nice refreshing way to sort of reinforce the presumption of innocence.
Call For Consultation
- What Might Your Attorney Advise If You Are Facing a Charge of Shaken Baby Syndrome?
- What Are the Possible Sentence Ranges for the Charges an Individual May Face?
- What Might a Person Accused of Child Abuse Experience?
- What Is the Prosecutor’s Approach in a Case Involving Allegations of Shaken Baby Syndrome?
- Common Misconceptions about Shaken Baby Syndrome