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Newly Discovered Evidence – Change in Medical Opinion with Respect to Shaken Baby Syndrome – Probability of Different Result

State v. Audrey A. Edmunds, 2008 WI App 33; prior history: State v. Edmunds, 229 Wis. 2d 67, 598 N.W.2d 290 (Ct. App. 1999), habeas relief denied, Edmunds v. Deppisch, 313 F.3d 997 (7th Cir. 2002)
For Edmunds: Keith A. Findley, UW Law School

Issue/Holding: Edmunds was convicted over a decade ago of causing the death of a baby in her charge; death was attributed to shaken baby syndrome. The State’s theory, adduced through a number of experts, was that a “lucid interval” was impossible for such trauma; when the baby was dropped off at Edmunds’ she appeared to be fine; therefore, Edmunds must have caused her death. Edmunds, however, now presents a number of experts to say that that there is at least a significant debate in the medical opinion on the matter of a “lucid interval,” so that what would have been at the time of trial a fringe view in support of the theory of defense is now much more accepted. The State challenged this view with experts to say that nothing has changed. The trial court determined that the State’s experts were more credible and therefore that Edmunds hadn’t met her newly discovered evidence burden of showing a probability of a different result. The court of appeals reverses:

¶18      Here, the circuit court expressly found that Edmunds’s new evidence and the State’s new evidence were both credible. The court then weighed the evidence and concluded that the State’s evidence was stronger. Under McCallum, the court applied the wrong legal standard. After determining that both parties presented credible evidence, it was not the court’s role to weigh the evidence. Instead, once the circuit court found that Edmunds’s newly discovered medical evidence was credible, it was required to determine whether there was a reasonable probability that a jury, hearing all the medical evidence, would have a reasonable doubt as to Edmunds’s guilt. This question is not answered by a determination that the State’s evidence was stronger. As explained in McCallum, a jury could have a reasonable doubt as to a defendant’s guilt even if the State’s evidence is stronger.…

¶22      … [O]ur only clear guidance comes from how the court described a reasonable probability in McCallum, 208 Wis. 2d at 474: “The correct legal standard when applying the ‘reasonable probability of a different outcome’ criteria is whether there is a reasonable probability that a jury, looking at both [the old and the new evidence], would have a reasonable doubt as to the defendant’s guilt.” Under this test, the dispute as to whether a defendant needs to show that confidence in the outcome of the trial is undermined or make an outcome determinative showing becomes a very fine distinction. …

¶23      The newly discovered evidence in this case shows that there has been a shift in mainstream medical opinion since the time of Edmunds’s trial as to the cause of the types of injuries Natalie suffered. We recognize, as did the circuit court, that there are now competing medical opinions as to how Natalie’s injuries arose, and that the new evidence does not completely dispel the old evidence. Indeed, the debate between the defense and State experts reveals a fierce disagreement between forensic pathologists, who now question whether the symptoms Natalie displayed indicate intentional head trauma, and pediatricians, who largely adhere to the science as presented at Edmunds’s trial. However, it is the emergence of a legitimate and significant dispute within the medical community as to the cause of those injuries that constitutes newly discovered evidence. At trial, and on Edmunds’s first postconviction motion, there was no such fierce debate. Thus, the State was able to easily overcome Edmunds’s argument that she did not cause Natalie’s injuries by pointing out that the jury would have to disbelieve the medical experts in order to have a reasonable doubt as to Edmunds’s guilt. Now, a jury would be faced with competing credible medical opinions in determining whether there is a reasonable doubt as to Edmunds’s guilt. Thus, we conclude that the record establishes that there is a reasonable probability that a jury, looking at both the new medical testimony and the old medical testimony, would have a reasonable doubt as to Edmunds’s guilt. Accordingly, we reverse and remand for a new trial.

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