ST. GEORGE – Less than a month after 11-month-old Skyah Suwyn died after being left in her mother April Suwyn’s vehicle, the Washington County Attorney’s Office announced Wednesday it declines to prosecute the mother. April Suwyn will not be charged with the baby’s death. A letter explaining the County Attorney’s decision was delivered Wednesday morning to Hurricane City Police Chief Lynn Excell.
The prosecutors’ review concluded the tragedy was not caused by the negligence of a reckless parent but rather was an error by a normally conscientious mother. Belnap said:
After carefully weighing the evidence in this case, the current science of memory lapse, and the objectives of the criminal justice system, it is my conclusion that prosecuting April Suwyn for the tragic death of her daughter Skyah is not in the interest of justice.
Because the purpose of the criminal justice system is to penalize a conscious wrongdoer, Belnap said, justice will not be served prosecuting April Suwyn because she was not blameworthy of mind. An unconscious lapse of awareness is substantively different than a conscious decision to leave a baby in a car, he said.
“This is not a case where a parent chose to leave a child in a car in the grocery store parking lot and then got distracted,” he said. “The distinction between a conscious choice and an unconscious lapse of awareness is important in determining blameworthiness under the criminal law.”
Investigators ruled out any use of prescription drugs, illegal drugs, or controlled substances by April Suwyn.
“Investigators consulted with forensic examiners from the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit to identify red flags of intentional wrongdoing,” Belnap said. “Investigators concluded that April’s conduct was consistent with inadvertent lapse of awareness and there were no indicators of willful bad acts.”
The criminal justice system requires prosecutors to weigh a number of factors in determining whether to proceed with a prosecution, Belnap said. Those factors weigh against prosecuting April Suwyn. They include:
- Retribution – In terms of retribution, no societal punishment (jail or fine) could exceed the pain April Suwyn is already suffering from the loss of her child due to her inadvertent lapse of awareness.
- Deterrence – The purpose of deterrence is to send a warning to those who would chose to commit criminal acts. The possibility of criminal prosecution encourages them to think twice. However, this particular type of memory lapse is unlikely to be deterred by the threat of prosecution. Because the fear of losing a beloved child does not counteract the brain’s lapse of awareness, the added possibility of a criminal prosecution would provide only marginal deterrence at best.
- Rehabilitation – Because the scientific research and the evidence suggest that April Suwyn’s lapse of awareness was outside her volitional control, there is no wrongful conduct from which to rehabilitate April Suwyn. Some might suggest that prosecution would serve a useful rehabilitative purpose by providing social services to April Suwyn and her family, but those resources are available without criminal charges.
- Incapacitation – Jailing April Suwyn to protect society is unnecessary because April Suwyn is not a threat to reoffend. April Suwyn’s actions were not the result of a conscious choice and she has already suffered the unimaginably painful consequence of the loss of her child.
The initial investigation by the Hurricane City Police Department concluded on Aug. 14 at which point Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap confirmed that his office had received the investigative reports from the Hurricane Police Department and that they were reviewing the reports carefully to determine what is in the interest of justice.
Skyah had been left in her car seat inside the vehicle for “a substantial period of time” before being discovered at 1 p.m., Hurricane Police Sgt. Brandon Buell said in an Aug. 1 statement.
Utah State Medical Examiner Todd C. Grey, M.D. ruled that Skyah’s cause of death was hyperthermia and that the manner of the death was accidental.
The prosecutor’s report released on Wednesday outlined a little more detail about what led up to Skyah’s death.
Road work forced April Suwyn to park down the street from her home after she had dropped her two boys off at a babysitter approximately 5 miles from her home, the report said. April Suwyn then rushed inside to use the restroom and forgot that 11-month-old Skyah was still in the back seat. Skyah, who reportedly often slept while her mother worked, wasn’t discovered until April Suwyn picked her sons up from the babysitter.
“When April arrived at the babysitter’s house,” the report said, “she left the vehicle running and ran inside to get her sons. She told them to hurry because Skyah was sleeping at home. As April was loading the boys into the car, she saw Skyah in the car seat and started to scream.”
Emergency responders found that Skyah was not breathing, and CPR was being performed, Buell said. Paramedics arrived on scene and tended to the infant, who was then transported to Dixie Regional Medical Center by Life Flight medical helicopter in extreme critical condition. Skyah was pronounced dead at the hospital.
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