I recently helped a child in a particularly troubling situation. Donna (not her real name) was just ten years old when she was charged with, “assault and battery upon a child, causing substantial injury”. It was alleged that Donna had violently shaken her infant cousin while watching him. The injuries to her cousin were discovered after an unrelated incident in which he had fallen off a bed. During a hospital examination following that incident, a CT scan showed older bleeds to the child’s brain and hemorrhaging in his eyes which were inconsistent with a fall from the bed. An investigation by the police and Department of Children and Families (“DCF”) was initiated. The infant was removed from his home and held in DCF custody until it could be determined how his injuries were caused.
The extended family was distressed by the removal of the infant from his home. In an effort to have the baby returned to his parents, Donna’s mother and father pressured her to lie to the police and say that she had shaken her cousin. Donna’s parents were of the opinion that nothing would happen to Donna because she was a juvenile. This admission was the only evidence incriminating Donna. Although the police followed all proper procedures, we were able to have this admission suppressed as being involuntarily made.
We used a forensic psychological expert to evaluate Donna and assist in the determination that the admission was involuntary. The psychologist determined that Donna was particularly vulnerable to the influence of her mother due to her age and mental capacity. The matter was dismissed following the suppression of this admission.
I was proud that I could help Donna because I feel that she had been wrongly taken advantage of by her parents, whom she trusted implicitly; her parents violated that trust when they put the needs and wants of others above the welfare of their own daughter. Donna had been placed in the worst of all positions when asked by her parents to lie to the police and tell them she had done this terrible thing. She wanted to help her family, but in the process put herself in serious jeopardy. It was not just the threat of punishment from the courts, but also the likelihood of having a permanent record of a conviction for this offense. No ten-year-old should be put in this position. It was important to me to stand up for this young lady to ensure that she would not be convicted of something which she truly had not done.
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