In DION M. SLATER-EL v. UNITED STATES, decided on July 7, 2016, the DC Court of Appeals reversed a second degree child cruelty case while applying a rather rare and archaic legal doctrine: the doctrine of inherent incredibility.

The child cruelty statute specifically provides:

A person commits the crime of cruelty to children in the second degree if that person intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly . . . [m]altreats a child or engages in conduct which causes a grave risk of bodily injury to a child[.]‖ D.C. Code § 22-1101 (b)(1).

The facts of the case gave rise to the doctrine inherent incredibility as was applied by the Court of Appeals are briefly as follows:

The appellant/defendant during a verbal altercation with his wife had grabbed his baby while still strapped to a high chair and during the scuffle had dropped or fallen partially on a couch with the child still in his high chair and under the defendant.

The trial court determined that appellant was guilty of attempted second-degree cruelty to children in that the appellant:

  1. Held the baby, who was strapped in a highchair, in a tight grip; and
  2. For many minutes, still very tightly gripping the baby, put his weight on the baby (or on some of the baby), with the child pinned between his body and the high chair on top of a couch.

Appellant contended that there was factual disparities in the findings and clearly erroneous and contrary to the physical evidence.

Specifically, the doctrine of inherent incredibility can be invoked when:

  • The testimony can be disproved as a matter of logic by the uncontroverted facts or by scientific evidence, or
  • When the person whose testimony is under scrutiny made allegations which seem highly questionable in light of common experience and knowledge, or
  • Behaved in a manner strongly at variance with the way in which we would normally expect a similarly situated person to behave.”

The trial testimony credited by trial Judge was of a family member in the home, who testified that while she was positioned behind the defendant and could not see the baby, she presumed that the defendant was on top of the baby and also his weight was on the baby.

The Court of Appeals in factoring other testimony concluded that factually

  1. The witness was not positioned to view the baby or to determine whether the appellant’s weight was on the baby;
  2. Other testimony established that the defendant was on his knees and thus his weight was not on the baby but crouched over the couch wrapping his arms around the baby;
  3. The baby was still in his high chair with the frame around protecting the baby from any possible injury.

Legally, the court held that factual testimony while cross-compared did not support the elements of statute and thus reversal was warranted.   That the factual evidence could not prove the elements of second degree child cruelty.

In fact, the child was also unharmed which further supported the physical evidence that he was never in harms way.

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Refer to our DC Child Abuse and Neglect page for more information on this subject.

Categories: Criminal Defense and Family Law.