Assault on a Child: David Steven Bell

51-year-old David Steven Bell of Black Mountain was arrested and charged by Asheville Police with assaulting a child when he first pushed her and then, after she walked back to him, slugging her in the face knocking her to the ground.

Cell phone video shows a crowd of people apparently outside the doors of a mall in Buncombe County. Bell, who looks to be at least 250 lbs and more than 6 feet tall, is one of the few adults amid a crowd of mostly teenagers. It’s hard to tell from the video the cause of the argument. At one point, Bell is pushed, although given his size and weight he barely moves.

The video then shows Bell turn and shove a young girl several feet back. She she walks back to him, Bell cocks and slugs her causing her to collapse to the ground, nearly striking a concrete post. He’s lucky he didn’t kill her.

Bell, who does not appear to have any other North Carolina criminal record, has been charged with two counts of Assault on a Female – G.S. 14-33(c)(2) and one count of Assault on a Child under the age of 12 years – G.S. 14-33(c)(3).

Assuming the girl was not seriously injured, it’s unlikely the charges would be upgraded to a felony. North Carolina’s felony assault inflicting serious bodily injury requires a bodily injury that creates a substantial risk of death, or that causes serious permanent disfigurement, or permanent or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ, or that results in prolonged hospitalization.

Serious bodily injury, defined in State v. Rouse, can include any or all of the following, including cracked pelvic bone and broken ribs, as in State v. Williams, the loss of a tooth, as in State v. Downs, or puncture wounds leading and premature labor, as in Rouse.

If the victim did not suffer serious bodily injury and Bell is convicted of these class A1 misdemeanors, and assuming no prior criminal record, he could serve up to 180 days, or 60 days for each count.

While video is not always dispositive, the video does not show any threat to Bell that necessitated self-defense, especially because he gives the first shove that sends the girl back several feet before she walks back up to him.

In addition, Bell had ample opportunity to walk away from any disturbance but remains standing among the teenagers where he ultimately strikes the girl.

Mounting a Defense to Charges of Intentional Infliction of Abuse

Abusive Head TraumaOne of the scariest moments for a parent is the accusation, upon bringing a child to a hospital, that you are a suspect in your child’s abuse. Because so much of the time spent with newborns is time away from other adults, even if you’ve never laid a hand on your child, assertion you did, based in injuries discovered by medical professionals, is hard to disprove.

In addition, to the criminal charges that may arise, a parent faces the inevitable Department of Social Services / Child Protective Services investigation that may result in an emergency application for removal of the child from the home, and can ultimately result in loss of custody.

Because child abuse experts have the same proof problem as any other law enforcement officer, they have latched onto a number of diagnoses that claim that, given a constellation of injuries, the injuries must have been the result of abuse, not accident.

The key term of art for nearly 20 years was Shaken Baby Syndrome. In the last two decades, however, child abuse experts have used other terms: intentional head trauma, intentional infliction of abuse, abusive head trauma, that are basically synonymous with the older term shaken baby syndrome.

The idea is that once a child abuse expert sees certain types of injuries, they will necessarily come to a criminal conclusion: that someone must have inflicted the injuries intentionally.

The problem is that the research doesn’t necessarily support these conclusions. The existence, for instance, of retinal hemorrhaging and subdural hematomas have been used by child abuse experts to then claim that the abuse was intentional.

Fighting a Child Abuse Charge

The further problem is that many lawyers lack a familiarity with the issues surrounding abusive head trauma and shaken baby syndrome. I recall a conversation I had with a much more senior lawyer years ago about a case involving retinal hemorrhaging and subdural hematomas. The defense lawyer bought into the prosecution’s assertion that because these things were present, the client must’ve been guilty.

I had to work hard to convince the lawyer that there was a different explanation. Lawyers have tremendous power. They can very easily persuade a client that there is no help, and no alternative explanation. It takes a special lawyer, and a special client, to pursue a not guilty outcome given that the odds are stacked against them.

Abusive Head Trauma / Shaken Baby Syndrome in NC

As I've previously written, North Carolina remains a place where abusive head trauma or intentional head trauma (formerly known as shaken baby syndrome) is misdiagnosed.

It is certainly not disputed that children are sometimes intentionally abused, and that this can have traumatic long term effects. It is, however, a matter for dispute about whether the two indicia – retinal hemorrhaging, subdural hematomas – therefore mean that the injuries must have been a result of abuse.

New literature is now making its way into the field indicating that quite a lot about what child abuse experts thought they knew about retinal hemorrhaging and subdural hematomas is not in fact true.

A case in which a child has RH and SDH, but little or no bruising, and no injuries to the neck, may very well be a case in which there has been no child abuse at all.

How, does RH and SDH appear in an otherwise healthy child? Some research indicates that as many as 4 in 10 babies may be born with undetected SDH, which goes unnoticed because it is asymptomatic. That's because the most traumatic event is passage through the birth canal. The RH may also occur from time to time, either because of rapid changes in air pressure, or because there has been an accidental fall that has triggered RH and then triggers a second bleed of the latent SDH.

 

Child Abuse Cases in North Carolina

Raleigh Child Abuse LawyerThere are not many crimes that conjure as many negative emotions as child abuse. While there are some child abuse cases that are extremely serious where a child is seriously hurt, in other cases the child is not hurt at all but the defendant’s behavior put the child at risk, resulting in the child abuse charge.

Recently, there have been several high profile child abuse cases in North Carolina, prompting the legislature to strengthen the penalties for child abuse charges. These types of charges have far reaching impact in that they are handled in the criminal system but also can include CPS involvement and potential impacts to custody.

North Carolina child abuse charges can be either misdemeanors or felonies. Misdemeanor child abuse is defined any parent or person providing car or supervision to a child under the age of 16 who inflicts injury, allows physical injury to be inflicted, or who creates are allows a substantial risk of physical injury to be created by other than accidental means. This is a Class A1 misdemeanor, meaning it is the most serious misdemeanor classification.

Felony child abuse can be categorized as either a Class B2, Class D, E, or G felony. As a point of note, a B2 felony classification is the same classification used for 2nd degree murder. A further analysis of the various classifications is as follows:

  • Class B2 – A parent or any other person providing care to or supervision of a child less than 16 years of age who intentionally inflicts any serious bodily injury to the child or who intentionally commits an assault upon the child which results in any serious bodily injury to the child, or which results in permanent or protracted loss or impairment of any mental or emotional function of the child.
  • Class D – A person providing care to a child less than 16 years of age who intentionally inflicts any serious physical injury upon the child or who intentionally commits an assault upon the child which results in any serious physical injury to the child; A person who commits, permits, or encourages any act of prostitution with or by the child; A person who commits or allows the commission of any sexual act upon the child.
  • Class E – A willful act or grossly negligent omission in the care of the child shows a reckless disregard for human life if the act or omission results in serious bodily injury to the child.
  • Class G – A willful act or grossly negligent omission in the care of the child shows a reckless disregard for human life if the act or omission results in serious physical injury to the child.

When dealing with the criminal justice system, especially in terms of Class E and above felonies, structured sentencing requires a mandatory minimum prison sentence.

Beyond the criminal implications, Child Protective Services (CPS) usually gets involved in child abuse cases. This can result in recommendations of parenting classes, regular home visits, removal of children from the home, and being places on what’s called a responsible party list. The responsible party list is a listing of individuals that CPS believes should not have children in their care. Even if a criminal charge is favorably resolved, the CPS implications can still continue.

While accusations of child abuse often occur with a single parent or caregiver, there are times where multiple caregivers are accused of the abuse. In these cases, it is important to recognize that each defendant will need their own attorney. Using the same attorney will present a conflict of interest which will negatively impact at least one party, if not all parties. Using the same attorney for multiple co-defendants means that a plea deal would most likely not be offered, as many pleas in cases of this nature involve once client testifying against the other.

If you or a loved one are charged with a child abuse charge, no matter how minor or serious, contact an experienced, ethical child abuse lawyer for help as soon as possible. Raleigh criminal lawyer Damon Chetson has significant experience with these types of cases, including a recent case that would now be classified as a B2 felony in a shaken baby syndrome case. In that case, he was able to have his client found not-guilty after a protracted legal battle and a jury trial.

Child Abuse in a Hot Car

Shanesha Taylor, charged wih felony child abuse by the Maricopa County attorney in Arizona, has captured the sympathies of people across the country.

Since her late March arrest, after she left her six year old and her baby in a car for 45 minutes while she went to a job interview, Americans have donated more than $100,000 to her cause, making the campaign to support her among the most successful in the history of the web.

Her treatment by prosecutors – Bill Montgomery, the county attorney, has said she will face felony charges – has sparked comparisons with other parents charged with child abuse in Arizona.

I have not followed the case closely; but it strikes me that the felony charges are harsh. But there is a certain logic that those who have not lived in Arizona might not really comprehend. When I lived there, it seemed that nearly every Spring or Summer there were stories of parents who had left children (or pets) in cars only to return to find them dead, after having experienced what must’ve been horrifically painful deaths in Arizonas stifling summers.

According to the Arizona Republic, the temperatures in the car reached 100 degrees while Ms. Taylor was away. It was thoughtless and even negligent to leave her children in the car. But is it deserving of a felony conviction?

 

Child Abuse accusations can result in felony or misdemeanor charges in North Carolina

Claims of child abuse sometimes arise in failing marriages, where mom and dad have decided to divorce. Sometimes allegations of abuse – sometimes against the mother, but more often against the father – become weapons in custody battles involving minor children. The result can be a protracted and bitter divorce proceeding.

But sometimes if these allegations reach the attention of authorities – whether Child Protective Services (CPS) or the Department of Social Services (DSS) or other governmental agencies – that can become something more than wild accusations in bitter divorce proceedings.

They can become criminal accusations. If you’ve been accused of abusing your children by a spouse or soon-to-be ex-spouse or ex-wife or ex-husband, you should probable talk to a criminal lawyer about the matter. Call [#phone#].

In these cases, the parties may be represented by divorce attorneys, but sometimes divorce attorneys don’t have the best advice. In fact, sometimes divorce attorneys will allow one party to depose another party where allegations of child abuse or child sexual abuse have been raised.

This is almost always a bad decision, in large part because those depositions can be used against the accused party later in a criminal proceeding.

Sometimes CPS may be called, especially if a Child Medical Exam (CME) or Child Medical Evaluation (CME) or Child Family Evaluation (CFE) has been conducted which seems to indicate abuse. If children are being used by one parent to accuse another parent of abuse, the children themselves may come to believe they were actually abused.

Here’s the point: it is very important to consult with a Raleigh criminal lawyer or North Carolina Criminal lawyer about these matters as soon as possible. It, in general, it is wise to politely, but firmly decline to speak to authorities about abuse, except to deny it where appropriate.

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