NJ Appellate Division Affirms “Shaken Baby” Conviction
The New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, recently upheld the conviction of a mother of twins who was found guilty of the aggravated manslaughter of a toddler that she was babysitting. This case arose after a 14-month-old toddler became lifeless at the woman’s home. Although the defense asserted that the child went limp after choking on applesauce, a number of medical experts testified that choking did not play a role in the child’s death. Rather, the child died as the result of injuries that were caused by being shaken violently. Ultimately, the woman was convicted of aggravated manslaughter and child endangerment.
Criminal allegations of aggravated manslaughter, aggravated assault, and child endangerment oftentimes also lead to investigations by the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (“DCP&P”), formerly known as the Division of Youth and Family Services (“DYFS”). During a DYFS investigation, the agency aims to gather as much information as possible to determine whether a child has in fact been abused or neglected. Usually, the investigations entail interviewing the parents and children. However, infants and toddlers are unable to explain whether something actually happened or not. A baby cannot say if there was an innocent accident, a fall from a crib, or abuse at the hands of a parent or caretaker. Accordingly, especially in cases of severe head trauma, the Division typically utilizes medical experts and child abuse pediatricians to assess the child’s constellation of injuries to determine if there is any medical basis to explain the causation of the injuries and whether anything other than child abuse could be the root cause.
If DYFS determines that abuse or neglect took place and then takes custody of a child, there will eventually be a factfinding trial in the New Jersey Superior Court, Family Part, to determine whether there was in fact child abuse or neglect. Usually, DCP&P must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that a parent committed child abuse or neglect. However, in some cases, the burden will shift to the parents to prove that either they were not the caretakers at the time the injuries occurred or that the injuries are not the result of child abuse. In either case, the Division will present investigators and medical experts to support the Division’s case and the parents will have the option to present their own experts. However, it’s important to know that from the moment the Division initiates an investigation, anything that the parents say to the DCP&P investigator can be admitted into evidence against that parent pursuant to the New Jersey Rules of Evidence.
If you are accused of child abuse and neglect and child protective services is investigating your family, you should speak with the New Jersey DCP&P defense attorneys at the Tormey Law Firm to learn more about DYFS investigations, as well as what information can be used against you by the Division, possible investigative outcomes, factfinding trials, and how an experienced DYFS defense attorney can help defend you. Contact us today.