When we read accounts of people being accused of and charged with criminal offenses, we often see the word “alleged” used throughout an article. The reason, of course, is that in our country, guilt, at least theoretically, is something that is determined by a jury verdict, or by a guilty plea. You won’t see the word, or anything like it, in most police accounts of their investigations, and this mindset parallels that of many citizens. The feeling among a lot of folks is that if you’ve been arrested for a crime, it’s time to get the noose ready, since the rest of the story will only be window dressing.
For those of us who deal day in and day out with the criminal justice system, of course, we know that this is a mistake. Innocent people are charged with, and convicted of, crimes on a regular basis. The reasons vary, but they run from mistaken identification, to police misconduct, among others. All of which brings us to the story of William B., who brought his girlfriend’s infant child to the hospital more than two years ago. The seven-month old was suffering from severe injuries to her head and other areas of her body. The child died two days later after life support was discontinued.
The articles we read on the case indicate that an investigation then took place over the next seven or eight months. We assume it was a detailed investigation, if only because of the length of time it took. And in the summer of 2012, William B. was arrested for the death and charged with first degree murder and child abuse. But if you comb the internet for the details on which the charge was based, you’ll find little more than (a) the girlfriend says she was at work when her child was injured, and (b) William’s story was “inconsistent” with the baby’s injuries. But we assume, with such serious charges after a lengthy investigation, there was plenty of evidence to bolster the arrest. Well, maybe not. Last week, it was reported that all charges against the defendant had been dropped. Again, we don’t know the specifics, but his attorney had argued that the injuries took place days before his client brought the baby to the hospital, and that, in fact, there was no evidence connecting William to those injuries.
We don’t know how this case will eventually be resolved, if at all. The charges were dismissed without prejudice, meaning that they can be refiled in the future. But the case is a powerful reminder that an accusation is just that – and that all defendants are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Law Offices of David A. Black
40 North Central Avenue #1850
Phoenix, AZ 85004