Abusive Head Trauma and Child Death: A Symposium for Prosecutors

june 11-13, 2024

As prosecutors grapple with the repercussions of an increase in physical abuse and abusive head trauma, it is critical to provide training to improve the overall quality of the criminal investigation and prosecution of these complicated cases.

In response to these trends, Zero Abuse Project and the New York Prosecutors Training Institute will jointly host an in-person training for prosecutors dedicated solely to the topics of abusive head trauma and child death. The training will use multidisciplinary subject matter experts from the field to address topics such as medical findings and literature, investigation techniques, improved multidisciplinary approach, preparation and direct examination of the state’s experts, preparation and cross-examination of defense experts, pre-trial litigation, and topics around professional well-being.

Topics will include the latest in abusive head trauma science and medical evidence, investigating deaths involving medically complex children, corroborating crime scenes in child death cases, and more!


In-person training

Join us June 11-13, 2024

While there is no registration fee for the symposium, attendees are required to cover their own travel and meal costs.*

There is a hotel room block at the Renaissance Albany. Reservations can be made here.

*After the conference concludes, NYPTI will cover lodging at the Renaissance Hotel for conference nights (Tuesday and Wednesday) for New York attendees whose offices are located more than 50 miles away from Albany. All other travel expenses are the responsibility of the attendee. New York attendees are required to make their own hotel reservations using their personal credit card for payment; NYPTI will be directly billed by the hotel after the conference attendance is confirmed.

Topic Descriptions and Learning Objectives

Child Death Investigations can be complex and emotionally taxing cases for a multidisciplinary team. This presentation will focus on the benefits of an MDT-based approach to address common issues and challenges that arise in the investigation of deaths of the most vulnerable victims. Factual data will be referenced regarding the reduction in undetermined manner of death (or SIDS) findings with the increased implementation of child death investigation teams and expansion of education programs surrounding safe sleep. Discussions will include best practices of early investigative coordination, utilization of forensic interviews and child advocacy centers for sibling/witness interviews, effective application of search warrants and subpoena powers, tips for medical record collection and review, and the power of a coroner/medical examiner-inclusive MDT.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Build skills and knowledge surrounding the basics of child fatalities including cause/manner of death distinctions and the importance of a thorough multidisciplinary team-centered investigation.
  2. Create a framework for an investigative protocol highlighting the components of each MDT member including the coroner’s office/medical examiner.
  3. Discuss methods to compile sufficient information through scene investigation, witness interviews, medical records and medical history, and technology-focused evidence to determine if a death merits criminal charges.

The answer can make all the difference to parents, accused perpetrators, prosecutors, and law enforcement. Getting it wrong can wreck lives and careers. The instructor will discuss the unique complexities of a child’s death in a home daycare setting and a foster home setting.  She will discuss Sudden Infant Death, unsafe sleep, and homicidal asphyxiation She will review the importance of interviewing various sources, documenting procedures, and reviewing 911 calls. Instruction will be delivered via lectures, PowerPoint slides and case studies.

Learning Objectives: 

  1. Understand Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and its implications.
  2. Analyze the importance of crime scene staging and alteration.
  3. Apply effective interview techniques, identify red flags in caretaker statements, and prepare case materials for court.

This session will include recognizing, investigating and documenting abuse and neglect of young children with developmental and, or intellectual disabilities.  Emphasis will be placed on understanding the diagnosis and prognosis of the child, capabilities, and limitations due to the disability and the importance of a multi-disciplinary approach.  Instruction will be delivered via lectures, PowerPoint slides and case studies.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Comprehend the heightened risk factors for abuse and neglect in children with special needs.
  2. Recognize the necessity of understanding the victim’s background, diagnosis, and limitations for effective investigation and prosecution.
  3. Implement a multi-disciplinary approach, emphasizing the importance of interviewing collateral witnesses, medical teams, and suspects while prioritizing thorough crime scene documentation.

This presentation will focus on recent appellate decisions across the nation on issues relating to the prosecution of individuals who have inflicted Abuse Head Trauma and similar injuries on children.  The session will include a discussion of cases determining whether the prosecution has adduced sufficient evidence at trial to establish a number of different assault and homicide charges; types of expert testimony and the showings necessary to render such testimony admissible at trial; and post-judgment motions to overturn AHT-related convictions. 

Learning Objectives:

  1. Understand the legal issues presented in criminal cases pertaining to the infliction of AHT and related injuries in children. 
  2. Understand how courts break down and analyze the relevant legal issues. 
  3. Understand what medical and legal professionals can do to assist courts in their analysis of medical findings and resulting legal issues. 

This topic explores the complexities surrounding abusive head trauma (AHT) cases and aims to equip professionals involved in the legal system with the necessary knowledge and tools to navigate them effectively. Through an illustrative case presentation, it sheds light on the
difficulties and challenges faced by juries in understanding and adjudicating AHT cases. Additionally, it provides comprehensive guidelines for educating homicide detectives, prosecutors, and juries on the principles of AHT, emphasizing the identification of unique features in an infant’s brain, skull, and neck that indicate a high risk for rotational brain injury. The discussion delves into the concept of denialism and its potential implications for recognizing and intervening in cases of child abuse, while also addressing common misconceptions and fringe beliefs (“fake news”) that can hinder proper assessment and intervention in AHT cases. 

This presentation explores the consensus on Abusive Head Trauma (AHT)’s plausibility and its status as the leading cause of fatal head injuries in infants. Attendees will learn to distinguish AHT from common medical conditions mimicking its symptoms and navigate legal challenges by examining alternate hypotheses introduced by defense expert witnesses.

Learning Objectives: 

1. Examine the fundamental consensus that Abusive Head Trauma (AHT) is plausible

2. Recognize that AHT is the leading cause of fatal head injuries in children < 24-months-old

3. Identify the most common medical conditions that mimic AHT

4. Analyze alternate hypotheses that may be introduced by expert witnesses for the

Through a case study, this course will discuss the importance of evidence collection, analysis and trial presentation in a child homicide case. The case study demonstrates that thorough preparation and developing a compelling narrative, difficult and complex facts can be effectively presented at trial. The presentation also will include a discussion on working with police, forensic/medical witnesses, and the victim’s family.

This presentation will focus on enhancing and elevating the skill sets necessary to effectively question a defense expert by integrating preparation, strategy and tactics into your cross-examination. It will emphasize the importance of preparation and understanding the symptoms and causes of abusive head trauma in order to challenge the defense expert’s opinion. It will also include how to develop specific objectives and formulate a strategy which will minimize, cast doubt on or demonstrate why the defense expert’s testimony is not consistent with the evidence of abusive head trauma; Finally, it will offer some tips on implementing a tactical approach targeted to a particular witness or particular testimony, which is designed to achieve the objectives of your strategy for cross-examination.

Child death casework can present investigators with unique challenges as it pertains to evidence discovery, processing, and interpretation. In fact, many non-traditional elements present at the scene may be overlooked by the untrained eye as it pertains to being used as possible evidence for substantiating or refuting allegations of maltreatment. In this course, unconventional methods and nontraditional forensic subdisciplines will be explored, allowing investigators to further expand their knowledge regarding what types of evidence and information may be gleaned from atypical sources of probative value.

Learning Objectives:

1. Identify nontraditional evidence typologies that could enhance case resolution.

2. Examine innovative forensic science disciplines and the types of information potentially uncovered through their use.

3. Understand the potential for expanded and novel multidisciplinary team (MDT) members to corroborate and strengthen one’s evidentiary scope regarding supporting or refuting allegations of child maltreatment and maltreatment-related child death.

Child death cases present unique challenges, requiring a comprehensive understanding of medico-legal procedures. This session addresses the complexities inherent in investigations and prosecutions, emphasizing the importance of including coroner investigators or medical examiners in multidisciplinary teams (MDTs). Failure to integrate these specialists can lead to overlooked information and missed opportunities for justice. Through a detailed exploration, participants will delve into key aspects of medicolegal death investigations, spanning from scene assessment to courtroom testimony. Drawing on real-world experience, best practices, visual aids, current research, and case studies, expert speakers will provide invaluable insights.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Gain essential tools for effectively constructing cases in child death investigations, catering to attendees new to the field.
  2. Acquire new skills and concepts to enhance existing knowledge bases for seasoned professionals in death investigations.
  3. Enhance understanding of the critical partnership between medical and legal entities in the investigation and prosecution of child death cases.