Several weeks ago, we learned that Dahlia Dippolito had given birth to a child while she was on house arrest and preparing for a trial on her case. Ms. Dippolito was previously sentenced to 20 years. That conviction and sentence was overturned on appeal. She is now back before the trial court facing the same charges.
During the Defense’s closing argument, they asked the jury to send her home to her child. There was no trial testimony on this and it had not been reported in the media. Many were shocked and surprised that someone in her position, with the amount of years she is facing, would bring a child into this world.
Nonetheless, Ms. Dippolito is not the first defendant and won’t be the last defendant to get pregnant while awaiting trial. Sometimes, this can work to the benefit of the defendant. Jurors may feel sorry for her knowing that if they convict her, she is likely to get many years in prison and be taken away from her child. In Ms. Dippolitto’s case, when her lawyer announced to the jury that she had a child, prosecutors quickly objected and the Judge sustained the objection and told the jury that they were not to consider what was said. It’s possible that the jurors did not pay attention to it. On the other hand, the jury was deadlocked and could not reach a unanimous verdict. There were at least 3 jurors who were voting to acquit her.
Defendants sometimes also use their children as a method of pleading with the Judge to not send them to prison. I have been to court and observed defendant’s and their lawyers openly with the child in court. This is not something that I believe works. In fact, I believe it is a detriment. My experience has found that Judges look at these actions with extreme disapproval. They believe that the child does not fully comprehend the proceedings and is only going to watch his father get taken off in handcuffs. The courtroom is not an appropriate venue for a child. Judges take this as a threat from the defendant to not lock them up because they have a child. The same tactic can be used with the Judge without the use of the child in court. A lawyer can show the Judge pictures of his client with his child. A lawyer can describe all of the activities that his client does with this child. This is a far more effective presentation for the court rather than imprinting in this child’s face a horrific scene that can become tremendously detrimental for this child’s development. Judges will be far more interested in listening about a father/child relationship without the child in court.
When I practiced in Massachusetts, there was a murder trial in which a woman was charged with killing her lover. She had two children. Sure enough, that woman with the agreement of her lawyer had her two children in court throughout the entire trial. No doubt the jurors saw her kids in court. The children were there for the reading of the verdict. The jury returned a verdict of not guilty. Although we cannot say that was the reason for the acquittal, but we can say that it obviously did not hurt her and could possibly have helped her. He co-defendant was convicted. He had no children.