Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Evidence properly admitted in child abuse or neglect case

Evidence properly admitted in child abuse or neglect case

Appellants’ statements to police detectives about her injured child were properly admitted at trial even though she was not given Miranda warnings. The trial court correctly determined that the interview, which took place in an enclosed waiting area at the hospital, was a consensual encounter and not a custodial interrogation.

Further, there was sufficient evidence at trial from which the court could conclude that appellant was guilty of child abuse or neglect.

Consensual encounter

“[W]e conclude that the hospital interview was a consensual encounter, not a seizure. Appellant was led to the private waiting room by a hospital chaplain and was present in the room when the detectives arrived.

“The two uniformed officers who initially were present asked appellant only for demographic information and did not touch appellant or advise her that she was under arrest. The uniformed officers left after the detectives arrived. There were never more than two officers in appellant’s presence, and although each possessed a service weapon, none drew his or her weapon.

“Appellant did not attempt to leave the waiting room; instead, she ‘stuck her head out the door’ and asked to use the restroom. In response, an officer told her to wait for the detectives. There is no evidence that the officers’ request that appellant remain in the waiting room for the detectives to arrive was mandatory.

“Appellant chose to comply with that request rather than reiterate her request or simply leave. ‘While most citizens will respond to a police request, the fact that people do so, and do so without being told they are free not to respond, hardly eliminates the consensual nature of the response.’ …

“No evidence indicated that anyone physically touched appellant, or that the language or tone of voice the uniformed officers or detectives used was inappropriate or aimed at compelling appellant’s compliance.

“The detectives did not tell appellant that she was under arrest or suspected of an offense. In fact, they were conducting a ‘preliminary investigation to try and understand what happened to [A.C.]’ and communicated that to appellant. Consistent with the preliminary nature of the interview, two CPS workers were present during the interview.

“Although the door of the room was closed, it was not locked. Appellant was not threatened or forced to speak with the detectives. The detectives did not tell appellant that she could not leave. The interview lasted forty minutes. Appellant was free to leave if she wanted.

“Under these circumstances, a reasonable person would have felt free to decline the officers’ requests or otherwise terminate the encounter. … Accordingly, this was a consensual encounter and the trial court did not err in denying appellant’s motion to suppress her hospital interview statements.”

Sufficient evidence

“Appellant concedes that A.C. suffered a serious injury. Nevertheless, appellant argues that the evidence was insufficient to support her conviction because the evidence did not establish that she was the criminal agent. We disagree.”

Twiford, a city firefighter, responded to a call concerning a nonresponsive child. “When Twiford responded to the apartment, appellant ‘pointed’ to A.C. and said, ‘he’s over here.’ Twiford found A.C. lying on a tile floor, nonresponsive with ‘agonal respirations.’ A.C. was cold to the touch and ‘completely limp’ when Twiford lifted him.

“Twiford immediately took A.C. to an ambulance for ‘vital care,’ which included intubation. In contrast to Twiford’s immediate and complete focus on A.C.’s care given his obviously fragile condition, appellant appeared indifferent to his plight.

“The medical evidence established that A.C. suffered bleeding in several parts of his brain and bruising on his liver. … Doctors also had to regulate A.C.’s blood pressure because the brain injuries had inhibited his body’s ability to ‘function normally’

“In addition to the internal injuries, A.C. had knots and bruises across his forehead, numerous bruises on his abdomen, ear, and scalp, and multiple abrasions on his abdomen, face, and thigh. A.C. also was severely malnourished, as evidenced by a lack of underlying fat, poor muscle tone, and excess skin folds under his arms and legs.

“Appellant provided several explanations for A.C.’s injuries. … But appellant’s explanations were not consistent with the medical evidence.

“Dr. Shipman stated that A.C.’s injuries were in multiple planes of his body, with varying levels of penetration into his face. … A fall at the playground and being struck by a toy fire truck did not sufficiently account for the extent of A.C.’s injuries because bleeding in A.C.’s brain was widespread in multiple locations, and Dr. Shipman explained that ‘we don’t expect to see that kind of distribution of bleeding when there is a single impact.’ …

“The trial court found that appellant was A.C.’s parent and responsible for A.C.’s care. The trial court also found that appellant was either ‘the one striking this child ’or she permitted ‘his condition to deteriorate and allowed’ the trauma Dr. Shipman identified to be inflicted upon him.

“The trial court expressly rejected appellant’s explanation to the detectives about A.C.’s trip to the playground, and permissibly concluded that she had lied to conceal her guilt. …

“Upon review, we conclude that credible evidence supports the trial court’s finding of appellant’s guilt. Accordingly, we affirm appellant’s conviction.”

Cobb v. Commonwealth, Record No. 1042-20-2, April 27, 2021. CAV (Clements) from Norfolk Circuit Court (Doyle). J. Barry McCraken for appellant, Mason D. Williams for appellee. VLW 021-7-051, 12 pp. Unpublished.

VLW 021-7-051

Virginia Lawyers Weekly

Verdicts & Settlements

See All Verdicts & Settlements

Opinion Digests

See All Digests