Judging Child Abuse

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Criminal child abuse cases are similar to murder cases in the amount of time taken in a preliminary hearing.
As one local judge says, it stems from the large amount of evidence, and the very public and emotional nature of these cases.

On January 19th, detectives say a secret was uncovered when a 16-year old girl left her home and wandered through the cold streets with a shopping cart of food not even one mile from her apartment.
From the investigation, the district attorney then decided to prosecute all three adults in the home.

Second judicial district court judge, Connie Steinheimer, says the DA starts with a preliminary hearing, instead of a grand jury.
She says is very common especially with severe child abuse cases.

"The district attorney's office always looks at preserving testimony when they look at a preliminary hearing and in that way, the defense attorney's have an opportunity to cross examine the complaining witness. Then that testimony is preserved if something happened to the witness or if the witness is unwilling or unable later."

Judge Steinheimer says preserving the testimony can be very important to the district attorney, and that's why cases like this often take even more time.
In this case, the three defendants will have to decide whether to be tried together or separately.

"Initially, the decision is made by the district attorney in their charging document. Then later, the defense can ask that the case be severed. Defendants can be separated and there is some constitutional rights that are implicated depending on whether someone is going to testify against one another or not."

As this case moves on to the district court level, the court can also weigh in to decide whether to try the three together or not, if the defendants have not yet separated.

Judge Steinheimer says the judge's comments have no effect on a trial.
She says judges do have to be more careful about what they say during sentencing.