Medical Examiners Wield Significant Power in Criminal Cases

medical examiner, Connecticut criminal defense attorneyIn certain cases, the evidence that a crime has been committed is almost overwhelming. For example, a store’s broken window combined with missing merchandise are fairly strong indications that a burglary has taken place. Violent crimes often leave similar evidence in the form cuts, bruises, wounds, and other injuries that leave little doubt as to the nature of the behavior that caused them. Sometimes, however, the physical evidence available does not offer a very clear picture of what occurred, or, even that something illegal ever happened. Medical examiners tend to be at the center of such controversy, as was the case recently in Massachusetts when a physician in the employ of the state changed his opinion regarding the death of a 6-month-old baby girl.

The Tragic Death of an Infant

More than two years ago, in March of 2014, a 6-month-old baby girl died at Boston Children’s Hospital after lapsing into unconsciousness while under the care of a sitter. The medical examiner who conducted the girl’s autopsy studied the case for a full year before releasing a report that baby had died as a result of shaken-baby syndrome. The examiner pointed to spinal fractures, retinal injuries, and swelling in the child’s brain. As a result, the sitter was charged with child’s murder.

During the months that followed, however, the medical examiner began to slowly alter her report. She started backing away from her initial assertion that the various injuries were caused by excessive shaking. In March of this year, she reversed her ruling, saying the cause of the child’s death was not necessarily a homicide. She stated that many of the injuries could have been sustained during resuscitation efforts.

Possible Complications

While prosecutors have announced plans to continue pursuing their case against the sitter, the medical examiner’s revisions could have a major impact on the outcome of the case. What was once a definitive ruling that the child had suffered injuries at the hands of another now leaves significant room for doubt in the minds of a jury. Interestingly, the same type of reversal has occurred several times by different medical examiners in recent years, and may have been related to pre-trial lobbying on the part of defense attorneys.

Getting Things Right

The duty of a medical examiner is to make a determination as to the cause of death when a person dies under suspicious circumstances. The job, of course, is far from easy, and the ruling of a medical examiner is often crucial to the prosecution of a criminal case related to the death. That is why is so important for the ruling to be comprehensive and correct, even if it takes time and revisions, especially in when a person could be facing charges for violence against a child.

At Woolf Law Firm, LLC, we understand that nothing in a criminal case should simply be taken at face value. Our knowledgeable team will utilize any and all means at our disposal to review the evidence against you when you facing criminal charges, including challenging the findings of a medical examiner. To learn more about how we can help you, contact an experienced Hartford criminal defense attorney today. Call [[phone1]] for a confidential consultation.

 

Sources:

https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/08/20/life-and-death-decision-without-supervision/gRzxpXjWQ0gHY2y49Nb8LK/story.html

https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/04/12/changes-opinion-baby-death-but-prosecution-will-continue/7eUuWi4b38xDPiMNtnFIFL/story.html

http://www.ct.gov/ocme/site/default.asp

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