Join webinar hosts Hilary Weinberg and Kate Loudenslagel of the Maricopa County Attorney's Office to learn:
- challenges faced in the investigation and prosecution of drowning cases,
- tips in investigating these cases,
- and thoughts on how to present these kinds of cases to a jury.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
Justice Clearinghouse Editors: Many people will think of “drowning deaths” as tragic accidents – rather than something to be prosecuted? Talk to us about the difference between the two?
Hilary Weinberg: Drowning deaths are one of the most preventable deaths when it comes to Children/vulnerable adults. Preventing these deaths literally means a person needs to watch the child/VA under their care while they are in a pool/lake/bathtub/anywhere water is available to make sure they are safe. In 2016, the Child Fatality Review Program through Arizona Depart of Health services determined that drowning was the most common cause of preventable deaths among children from 1-4 years of age. Each case we review is very fact specific but we have seen reports that run the gamut between a child intentionally left by a pool because he was disabled and a burden to the family- to a case where a child snuck out of the house when a parent, who had just seen the child watching television, left the room to put laundry in the dryer.
Kate Loudenslagel: Determining whether a drowning death is criminal is one of the biggest challenges to the investigation and prosecution of these cases because you have to overcome the public’s initial gut belief that the death was simply an accident.
there were an average of 3,536 fatal unintentional drownings
(non-boating related) annually in the United States —
about ten deaths per day.
An additional 332 people died each year
from drowning in boating-related incidents.
JCH: Your webinar is specifically about investigating and prosecuting drowning cases. How is the investigatory/prosecution process of drowning cases different than perhaps other forms of violence you’ve presented about in the past? What makes these kinds of cases unique?
Hilary: There are a number of investigative things that we need for these cases that are not used in standard cases involving weapons. We rely heavily on timelines in these cases to determine what kind of crime, if any, we are looking at.
Kate: Also, motive or the perpetrator’s reason for committing the crime is different than what might commonly be seen in other domestic violence situations.
JCH: You're both involved with Maricopa County's Family Violence Bureau. The work that you do is important, but must be challenging at times. What drew you to this specific area of justice and protecting the public? What keeps you motivated or inspired to keep going in light of some of the horrible things you must encounter as part of your jobs?
Hilary: One of the best parts of this position is the ability to stand up for victims who would not otherwise have a voice in the criminal justice system.
JCH: A large number of our readers and subscribers are in law enforcement, but we have representation from all parts of the justice arena. Can you share some specifics of what different types of justice professionals or first responders will gain by attending your webinar? What skills or new knowledge will they gain that they can immediately use the next day on the job?
Hilary: Your attendees will get some insight into the challenges presented when there is a case of suspected drowning and what kinds of things prosecutors would like to see in investigating these cases. It seems harsh charging a parent with the death of their child after they have suffered this kind of tragic loss and we hope to give attendees some things to think about when pondering this difficult decision.
Kate: The goal of this webinar is to help all of the justice professionals and first responders critically look at these cases from the very beginning so that we can effectively make decisions about how to proceed in an investigation and are not hindered by our own initial gut belief that the death may be an accident. Whether the investigation results in criminal charges or is determined to be an accident, the investigation should be thorough and processed with a critical eye.
About one in five people who die
from drowning are children 14 and younger.
For every child who dies from drowning,
another five receive emergency department care
for nonfatal submersion injuries.
To watch Investigating and Prosecuting Drowning Deaths, click here.