Parents who bring their child to the hospital or doctor’s office with injuries face some enormous hurdles in Michigan. This is especially true if the child is too young to explain to a doctor, nurse or social worker how the injury occurred. It is common for the parent of a young child to immediately come under scrutiny by emergency room physicians and child abuse pediatricians in the hospital setting. Parents who are being interrogated in a hospital need immediate legal attention. That is why Cronkright Law phones are answered 24/7.
When Parents become Suspects
Parents don’t always know that they have become the focus of an investigation. Even when a Children’s Protective Services worker or police officer shows up at the hospital, parents tend to do what comes natural by trying to be helpful. So, they answer questions (over and over), agree to requests to separate from family members for interviews, and stretch to think of something they might have done with a child that explains a fracture, a head injury or some other medical condition.
Most parents don’t realize that they are not helping the doctors treat the child; instead they are helping to build a case for CPS and the police. Every hospital of any size has doctors who investigate potential child abuse cases. These doctors form a child protection team and tend to have specialized training designed to help them gather evidence against parents and caretakers for use in court. In many cases, criminal charges are prosecuted entirely based on the forensic work of these examining doctors and not based on the work of the police. (Forensic simply means “for the legal system.”)
The first report to CPS is often made by an Emergency Department physician. Virtually every emergency room in Michigan is staffed by doctors with at least some forensic training. These doctors are often not current on the medical research regarding Shaken Baby Syndrome, Bone Fragility, Rickets or infant fractures. They might not accept explanations from parents as to the cause of an injury, especially when a child is not yet walking. At the same time, the forensic team is not likely to believe that a parent simply does not know how an injury occurred.
As a result, doctors will often assume a parent is lying if the parent’s explanations don’t satisfy their beliefs as to how an injury occurred. In the same way, doctors who believe that the parent’s story is changing assume that a parent is lying. This is why repeatedly answering the same question in a hospital setting is dangerous. Every courtroom lawyer knows that if you keep asking the same question you will get variations of an answer. In the hospital setting, this can be dangerous for an innocent parent trying to be helpful.
Will I Look Guilty if I Call a Lawyer?
No. Sophisticated people who need legal help get lawyers. Police officers are very quick to hire lawyers and our attorneys have represented a number of them. Many parents say, “I have nothing to hide.” As a result, they submit to repeated questioning by doctors, police, CPS workers and others. As trial attorneys who advocate for parents every day, we don’t believe in helping people who want to gather information to be used against you.
Injuries that Look Like Abuse
Many injuries and ailments have medical explanations even though they look like they could have been caused by trauma or abuse. Many injuries are the result of accidents and the parents end up being accused of abuse. Other injuries are caused by normal handling of a child with some metabolic problem. In many hospitals, doctors don’t work very hard to find non-abusive explanations when they suspect abuse. Rather, they work to rule out common defenses raised by attorneys. So, for example, it is common for doctors to attempt to rule out osteogenesis imperfecta. Why? Because there was a time (20 years ago) when defense attorneys routinely brought that up as a possible medical issue to explain injuries. It is actually scary how often forensic doctors are thinking about a legal case rather than thinking about treatment. Another common example of this is the amount of radiological studies that are performed for purely forensic purposes when there is no medical need for the x-rays. When forensic medicine is being practiced, someone is under investigation and likely to be prosecuted.
Should I Co-operate?
The answer to the question, “Should I co-operate?” is going to be different in different cases. If you are asking that question, it is probably time to get an attorney on the phone. It may be helpful to remember that the Michigan criminal child abuse code has a list of injuries that will always satisfy the code requirement that an injury be serious before a suspect can be charged with 1st degree child abuse (subject to the penalty of up to life in prison.) These injuries include:
- brain damage
- skull fracture
- any bone fracture
- subdural hemorrhage
- subdural hematoma
- internal injury
- burn or scald
- severe cut
It’s worth noting that the statute says “including but not limited to” meaning that any number of other injuries will potentially invoke a life in prison possible sentence. This does not mean that you should not cooperate. It does mean that before you do, you should consult with a knowledgeable and experienced Michigan child abuse defense attorney.
Finding the Right Attorney
When a case is being built by a well-funded hospital forensic team, along with a well-funded Department of Health and Human Services and a well-funded police or sheriff department, you must have the assistance of a competent, tenacious and knowledgeable defense team. Michael Cronkright first learned medical litigation as a Plaintiff’s medical malpractice attorney. He has over two decades of experience in criminal defense. He has been defending parents in neglect / abuse cases for two decades as well. Today, he brings all of that experience together to help parents with complicated medical defenses. As a result, the Cronkright Law team can help level the playing field. If this is the type of assistance you are looking for, please don’t hesitate to call on us.