Homicide by Child Abuse
One of the most serious criminal charges in South Carolina is Homicide
by Child Abuse. This law is codified in S.C. Code § 16-3-85. All
charges are brought in General Sessions. Those convicted face a mandatory
minimum sentence of twenty years in the Department of Corrections, and
a possible higher sentence of up to and including life imprisonment.
Because this offense is so serious, jail bond courts are not allowed to
set bond. Instead, all defendants are held until a request for bond is
filed with General Sessions. This is something that the defense attorney
retained will file and request.
One major reason why this offense is so serious is that when these charges
go to court, there is not a “lesser included” offense that
the court has the option of finding the defendant guilty of. A trial for
Homicide by Child Abuse is “all or nothing” in that respect
(unless other charges are also pending).
This is different than many other criminal charges. For example, in a murder
trial the court usually has the option of finding the defendant guilty
of the lesser crime of manslaughter. But in a Homicide by Child Abuse
trial, the only choice given regarding the death of the child is “guilty”
or “not-guilty”, with no middle ground for situations where
there may have only been more moderate levels of fault.
The “all or nothing” standard in a trial however does not limit
the right of the defendant and prosecution to enter into an agreement
to reduce the charge to a lower level child-abuse, manslaughter, or assault.
This can result in a drastically reduced sentence, in some situations
depending on the reduction and negotiations this could be probation.
Homicide by Child Abuse is a charge available when there is a death of
a child under the age of 11.
Right to Remain Silent
The aftermath of an unexpected death of a child can be highly emotional.
Interviews of parents or caregivers during the first few hours are frequently
the basis for these charges. Investigators know this, and that is why
they begin questioning distraught and grieving family members as soon
as possible. They may not always give Miranda advisements prior to questioning.
Avoiding the Media
Situations in which a child’s death has been attributed to child
abuse, or the arrest of a parent or caregiver for Homicide by Child Abuse,
can result in media coverage. Family and others going through this process
should anticipate media inquiries or coverage. When questioned by the
media you have a right to decline to make any comment or other statements.
You do not have to answer phone calls from or open doors for reporters.
Use of Defense Experts
When charges are brought it will be because the police have obtained an
opinion from the medical examiner’s office, or other medical expert,
that the death was the result of child abuse.
The defense does not have to accept this determination, and it can be fully
challenged in court. Frequently one of those most important steps in the
defense of this charge is the procurement of a defense expert (such as
a medical doctor) to challenge the state’s assumptions as to the
cause and manner of death.
For example this is how the defense can raise challenges to assertions
such as shaken baby syndrome (which can be mistaken for a naturally occurring
brain hemorrhage), or to co-sleeping deaths being possibly attributed
to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Police and coroner’s office officials will conduct an investigation
into the death of a child. They will interview witnesses and try to create
their own timeline of events. Frequently their investigation will not
be absolute, or take into account 100% of the possible information available.
Because of this it is important that a defense investigation into the
circumstances of the death also occur.
Obtaining a Defense Attorney
The most important thing that anyone who is under investigation or has
been charged for the death of a child can do is to retain a defense attorney.
At the Law Office of James R. Snell, Jr., LLC, we are able to provide
defense for Homicide by Child Abuse charges, including assisting with
locating defense experts and providing a defense investigation.