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Pregnancy May Constitute Physical Injury Element of Aggravated Child Molestation

April 2, 2020

In Daddario v. State, the Georgia Supreme Court held that a child victim’s pregnancy and difficult childbirth could be sufficient to establish the physical injury element of the offense of aggravated child molestation. In this case of first impression in Georgia, the Court held that this element can be satisfied by proof of injuries sustained during the act itself or, as here, those that were proximately caused by the defendant’s acts.

The defendant was convicted of aggravated child molestation for having sexual intercourse with his 14-year-old daughter. Based on the evidence at trial, this resulted in a very painful and potentially life-threatening childbirth approximately nine months later. The defendant did not dispute having sexual intercourse with his daughter but argued that his conduct constituted the offense of child molestation, not aggravated child molestation, because aggravated child molestation requires proof of an act that “physically injures the child.”

The Court noted that in order to prove the physical injury element of aggravated child molestation, it must be shown that the injury suffered by the child was proximately caused by the act of molestation. The defendant urged the Court to hold that pregnancy or childbirth can never be legally sufficient to establish this element. In contrast, the State contended that evidence of a pregnancy or childbirth should always be sufficient to support a finding of physical injury. Rather than adopt a per se rule, the Court held that whether an act of child molestation proximately caused physical injury should be a question of fact decided by the jury. That way, the question will be decided based on the specific facts of the case and on the evidence presented at trial.

The Court went on to explain that the critical question for the jury is whether the State presented sufficient evidence at trial that the defendant’s “act of sexual intercourse with his 14-year-old daughter caused her to endure circumstances of childbirth so painful and traumatic to her body that a jury could conclude that she was physically injured.” In this case, the Court found that this was established by evidence at trial that the child suffered tearing of her vagina as well as a significant amount of blood loss during childbirth. As a result, the child required a large number of stitches and six weeks of pain medications. The Court noted that in Dixon v. State, 278 Ga. 4 (2004), it previously held that evidence that the child suffered pain was sufficient to establish that an act of molestation caused physical injury.

The defendant also argued that the aggravated child molestation statute is unconstitutionally vague as it fails to make clear whether pregnancy or childbirth can constitute the physical injury element. The Court rejected this argument and explained that the statute is not required to set out every step in the chain, as long as proximate cause can be shown between the offense conduct and the resulting injury.

Therefore, the Court held that the evidence was sufficient to prove that the child’s physical injury was a proximate cause of the offense. As a result, the defendant’s aggravated child molestation conviction was affirmed.

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