Criminal, Evidence – Shaken Baby Syndrome & Daubert Hearing: Hamilton v. Commonwealth (COA 8/14/2009)

Hamilton v. Commonwealth
2008-CA-000300 8/14/09 2009 WL 2475291

Opinion by Judge Moore; Judge Wine and Senior Judge Henry concurred.

The Court reversed and remanded a jury verdict and judgment of the circuit court finding appellant guilty of wanton assault in the first degree and sentencing him to eleven years’ imprisonment following the injury of his infant son. The Court held that the trial court erred in permitting expert testimony regarding Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) without holding a Daubert hearing to assess the reliability of SBS. At the time of the trial court’s decision to deny appellant a Daubert hearing, the record contained few of the factors indicative of a complete record that would excuse the necessity of such a hearing. The Court further held that the trial court erred by taking judicial notice of SBS and shifting the burden to prove its unreliability onto appellant. The Court then held that the error was not harmless because the Commonwealth relied exclusively upon the SBS testimony without any other piece of direct evidence. Therefore, there was more than a substantial possibility that the verdict might have been different without the testimony. The Court also held that the trial court did not err by failing to give instructions on second or third-degree abuse, as they were not lesser-included offenses of the crime for which appellant was indicted. However, the trial court did err in giving an instruction on second-degree assault as a lesser-included offense.

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