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Defense argues child abuse charges are too "general" to defend

 

March 31, 2022



Karey Hedlund of Moorcroft appeared in District Court last week to present a motion demanding more specific details of the times and dates of the child abuse she is alleged to have committed.

Her lawyer, Steven J. Titus, argued that trying to build a defense based on accusations that span six years is akin to finding “a needle in six years’ worth of hay.”

Hedlund entered a plea of not guilty in January to 16 charges of child abuse and one of aggravated assault and battery.

Titus argued, based on precedent from previous Wyoming cases, that Hedlund cannot adequately defend herself without more information about exactly when the events in question are said to have happened. He described an example in which, knowing the date on which an incident is said to happen, the defense could seek to produce photos or other evidence to support her plea.

Accusations that are too “general”, his motion stated, put the defendant in danger of being tried twice for the same alleged offense, run the risk of the defendant being “surprised” during trial and make it more difficult to prepare a defense.

He filed the motion, he said, so as, “To be able to formulate our potential defenses…in order to ensure we protect Ms. Hedlund’s rights moving forward.” The longest time period for a “general” timespan that he was able to find in relevant case history, he said, was nine months.

The alleged abuse took place over an estimated six years. Titus argued that Hedlund cannot be expected to prove where she was or what she was doing over such an extended period of time.

Interviews with the alleged victims, Titus stated, include multiple allegations of abuse ranging from denial of food to use of restraints, but, “Only generalities are provided as to dates any of these incidents occurred”.

If Hedlund were to be found guilty on one or more counts, he argued, it would be impossible to know which of the alleged occurrences the jury had convicted her on, or if that conviction “is a bar to future prosecutions for the same offense based on the same evidence.”

Deputy County Attorney Lynda Bush filed an objection to Titus’ motion that argued previous case law has already established the criteria under which the state would be precluded from further prosecuting the defendant.

“The factor regarding bar to prosecution has been met in this case as well, especially given the details provided…specific to each charge of child abuse,” states her response.

Bush noted that Hedlund has been provided with 250 pages of reports, photographs and documents relating to residency during the timeframe the events are said to have occurred, as well as six officers’ videos and six forensic interview videos.

“This information provides the defendant with where the offenses are alleged to have been committed, the nature of the charges and time period in which they occurred,” she stated.

In court, Bush said, “There’s enough specificity in this…in fact, this is one of the more specific cases that I’ve filed.” For that reason, she said, the accusations can be barred from future prosecution by their very nature.

“There’s no question what the allegations are,” she said.

Bush also noted that the Wyoming Supreme Court has previous established that a bill of particulars, as requested by Titus, “is inappropriate for obtaining evidence, facts, theories and strategies” and that a general time frame is sufficient to allow a defendant to prepare their defense.

Furthermore, she said, the Wyoming Supreme Court has established that young children cannot be expected to be exact with times and dates.

Bush explained that forensic interviews are used to gather evidence from young victims. In such interviews, the questions are deliberately vague so as to not influence the answers given in return.

For instance, she said, an interviewer might ask, “What helps you remember when that happened?” Asking more specific questions, she said, risks later being accused of tampering with the victim’s memory or influencing their responses.

“I don’t know that the state would be able to get any more specific than we already are,” she said.

After hearing the arguments, Judge James Michael Causey stated he would consider them and will issue a written opinion in due time.

 
 

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