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Florida Child Abuse Defendant Convicted Because He Could Not Afford An Expert

In what are referred to as shaken baby cases, the state will almost always have an expert testify that the child’s injuries must have been caused by someone forcibly shaking the baby rather than whatever explanation the defendant or defense lawyer provides. The State will always have someone on hand ready to testify that the only explanation for the baby’s injuries is that he/she was shaken and that all other explanations for the baby’s injuries are implausible. However, the defendant has a right to obtain his/her own medical expert to testify that the baby could have been, or likely was, injured by some other mechanism that is consistent with the defendant’s innocence on child abuse charges.

But doctors are expensive, and what happens if the defendant cannot afford to have a doctor spend time looking at the records and come to court to testify on his/her behalf? In a recent child abuse case south of Jacksonville, Florida, the defendant was arrested for child abuse when the state alleged that he shook the child and injured him. The state’s case relied almost entirely on the testimony of experts who testified that the child’s injuries must have come from being forcibly shaken by someone. The defendant wanted to have an out of state neurologist testify that the shaken baby testimony from the state’s experts was flawed and there were multiple other possible explanations for the child’s injuries. The problem was that the defendant’s expert was charging $10,000 per day to testify in court. The defendant clearly could not afford this expert. The defendant did not get his expert to testify, and he was convicted of child abuse at trial.

A defendant who is indigent, or without the ability to pay, has a right to a lawyer at the state’s expense. That defendant also has a right to an expert at the state’s expense under certain circumstances. If the expert is important enough to the defendant’s case and not too expensive, the court should order the state to pay for the defendant’s expert. In this case, because the state had its own experts and there was apparently no less expensive expert with similar qualifications, the defendant’s conviction was reversed so that the defendant could have an opportunity to have his own expert testify at the state’s expense.