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I Was Falsely Accused of Child Abuse. What Should I Do?

by | Jun 3, 2024 | Criminal Defense

Should I Speak to the Police?

The short answer here is no. Be polite and cooperative but do not speak to the police because if the police have even a slight suspicion you injured your child or the child you’re caring for, they and the prosecutor will try to twist your words and use anything you say against you. Try to remain as calm as possible, as cooperative without speaking, and call an attorney immediately.

What is Shaken Baby Syndrome?

Shaken baby syndrome is the theory that bruising, bleeding, and swelling on the infant’s brain can result from forcibly and violently shaking it. The theory proposes these types of injuries occur because a baby’s brain is very fragile and moves back and forth inside of their skull when forcibly shaken. Many parents and caregivers face criminal charges due to these brain injuries. In Ohio, these charges are usually felony endangering children charges under Ohio Revised Code (“ORC”) Section 2919.22 or felonious assault under ORC Section 2903.11. These are serious charges that can and usually result in prison time if the individual is convicted.

Is Abusive Head Trauma the Same As Shaken Baby Syndrome?

The term ‘Shaken Baby Syndrome’ was used prevalently to describe these types of injuries; however, over the last 20 years or so, child abuse specialists have broadened the term to what is now called ‘Abusive Head Trauma.’ Because the mechanism of injury is not always clear, the so called ‘experts’ use this term to encompass a wider range of possibilities for the cause of injury. The idea here is this makes it easier for them to diagnose abusive head trauma.

How Is Abusive Head Trauma Diagnosed?

For every medical diagnosis other than abusive head trauma, a doctor will evaluate diagnostic criteria, which includes the medical history, findings on a physical examination, results from lab and radiology tests, and a simple account of what symptoms or events the patient experienced.

With abusive head trauma in infants, there are no specific diagnostic criteria the child abuse specialist evaluates. A child abuse specialist can choose any or all factors (either caregiver-related or child-related) and then use a constellation of findings argument.

What is the Constellation Argument?

Child abuse specialists use a constellation argument in nearly every case involving a child abuse diagnosis.

The child abuse specialist might point to a caregiver’s history of mental health struggles, the caregiver’s vague or changing medical history of the baby, or a reaction of the caregiver the child abuse specialist deems inappropriate when the suggestion was made the child was abused. Though none of these prove the child was abused, unfortunately, the child abuse specialist will include it as a basis for the diagnosis if they can.

When it comes child-related factors, the child abuse specialist will include any and all symptoms or diagnoses of the child. This may include seizures, irritability, lethargy, vomiting, subdural hematomas, brain injury or hemorrhage, rib fractures, skull fractures, scalp swelling, skin bruises, etc.

Thus, a child abuse specialist will find as many of these factors as they can from these arbitrary lists to declare there is a constellation of findings warranting a diagnosis of child abuse.
This constellation argument is quite convenient for a child abuse specialist because once they have simply declared the constellation exists, they try to convince prosecutors abusive head trauma has occurred.

Is the Constellation Argument Effective?

Unfortunately, the constellation argument can be effective in cases involving false allegations of child abuse, but a good criminal defense lawyer can highlight the fact the constellation argument relies on flawed logic: namely, circular reasoning and confirmation bias.

In effect, the argument starts with a hidden premise that child abuse has occurred, then from there, asserts there is a constellation of findings, and therefore child abuse has occurred.

Put another way, it is a sleight-of-hand technique that relies upon nothing more than confirmation bias. Usually, situations involving false allegations of child abuse usually entail an initial suspicion child abuse has occurred, and from there, the child abuse specialist will attempt to find as many flaws of the caregiver and as many symptoms or diagnoses of the infant that could be consistent with child abuse, but that in fact, do not establish or prove it.

This constellation argument is a great convenience for the child abuse specialist because once they have claimed the constellation exists, they are not questioned. There are no second opinions the government needs (or wants for that matter) and they can be trusted simply by declaring the constellation exists to warrant a diagnosis of abusive head trauma.

A constellation is a small group of stars that someone believes appears to look like an animal, person, or object, but in reality, does not look like much of anything. While a child abuse specialist may argue the constellation of findings may look like child abuse, another child abuse specialist or expert may disagree.

Do I Need my Own Medical Expert to Defend Against False Allegations of Child Abuse?

You should hire an expert to evaluate your child abuse case. It is absolutely crucial you can provide the expert with medical records and a comprehensive medical history of your child or the infant who was allegedly abuse, and review with them a timeline of events of the child’s condition/s and symptoms leading up to the event that required the baby to receive medical attention or hospitalization.

In Cincinnati, Children’s Hospital will evaluate the child who is suspected of being abused. This particular division is called The Mayerson Center. The doctor must be qualified with the proper education, training, and experience in order to give a diagnosis of abusive head trauma. Further, it is crucial your expert has all information the Mayerson Center evaluated and relied upon in diagnosing the baby with abusive head trauma.

Why Should I Trust Rittgers Rittgers & Nakajima to Take My Child Abuse Case?

At Rittgers Rittgers & Nakajima, our criminal defense lawyers work with medical experts to defend you in court against false allegations of child abuse, including shaken baby syndrome and/or abusive head trauma.

We have handled hundreds of child abuse cases and currently have a case involving the issues described in this blog.

In this particular case, our client has no prior criminal history and his infant son experienced no physical or internal injuries. His son was hospitalized after having seizures and was falsely diagnosed with abusive head trauma at only two months old.

Leading up to his hospitalization, his head was excessively growing as he was over the 99th percentile in head circumference.

He had excessive fluid buildup in his head due to his birth and his growth that caused his brain to bleed and ultimately, caused him to have seizures. Multiple pediatric doctors who specialize in different areas of medicine have thoroughly evaluated his case and have determined our client did not abuse his son; more importantly, they have given a reasonable and in fact, truthful alternative medical diagnosis to account for his hospitalization that unfortunately led to criminal charges.

It is crucial you do not speak with the police, hire a competent criminal defense lawyer who understands the tactics child abuse specialists will use, and hire competent doctors who can provide clear, truthful, and compelling expert opinions about causation of injuries when defending against false child abuse allegations.

If you or someone you know needs a criminal defense lawyer, do not hesitate to contact the experienced attorneys at Rittgers Rittgers & Nakajima to schedule your free consultation today.