State Supplied Sufficient Evidence for Jury to Infer Defendant Knew About Child’s Injury but Failed to Act

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

In a recent criminal law matter, the Supreme Court of Connecticut reversed the Appellate Court’s finding that the State provided insufficient evidence to convict the defendant for risk of injury to a minor child.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on January 12, 2003. A mother, U, got ready for a birthday party but forgot to turn off her hair straightener before leaving at 11:30pm. She left her four-month-old child (the victim) in the defendant’s care. U returned at 1:15am and sat with her older son in the living room until 3:30am, during which time she did not hear the victim cry. When U then began to play with the victim, she saw that the child’s left hand was “extremely swollen and had formed a large blister” and promptly called 911. The defendant and U both told responding officers that the victim’s hand was not injured before U left earlier that night, and the defendant acknowledged that while he had been with the victim all night, he did not know what caused the injury.

The defendant was charged with risk of injury to a child “for his willful delay in seeking medical attention for the victim” in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 53-21(a)(1). At trial, the treating physician testified that the victim would have “screamed bloody murder” when burned; likewise, the child’s pediatrician testified the screaming would have lasted up to fifteen minutes. Because U did not hear the victim crying when she returned, the State argued that the child suffered the injury sometime between 11:30pm and 1:15am – at least two hours forty-five minutes before 911 was notified.

A jury found the defendant guilty, but on appeal the conviction was reversed. In reviewing the defendant’s insufficiency of the evidence claim, the Appellate Court found that the State failed to provide direct evidence on the age of the injury. As such, the jury’s inference that the defendant was aware of the burn was “too speculative” to support a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. On appeal, the State argued that the Appellate Court failed to consider circumstantial evidence in the light most favorable to sustaining the verdict.

To secure a conviction under the “situation prong” of § 53-21(a)(1), the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant “willfully or unlawfully caused or permitted a [minor] child to be placed in a situation where… the health of the child was likely to be injured…” If a defendant was under a legal duty to act and his failure to act “cause[d] a dangerous situation to exist or continue,” this may be sufficient evidence for conviction under the statute. Thus, a defendant may act willfully where he became aware of the victim’s injury but thereafter purposefully delayed seeking medical attention.

In this case, the Supreme Court agreed that there was substantial circumstantial evidence supporting the jury’s inferences that the injury occurred while U was not home, and that the defendant was aware of the injury’s severity. At the time the victim was injured, the defendant would have heard the screaming and seen that the child’s hand was “grotesquely charred and blistered.” Therefore, the Court held that the Appellate Court erred in concluding there was insufficient evidence supporting the verdict and reversed judgment.

When faced with a charge of risk of injury to a child or reckless endangerment, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.