Georgia Supreme Court Reverses Lower Court Decision Denying Danyel Smith the Opportunity to Present New Scientific Evidence of his Innocence
On December 20, in a unanimous opinion, the Georgia Supreme Court reversed a lower court’s denial of Danyel Smith’s extraordinary motion for new trial and remanded the case for an evidentiary hearing. The decision will allow Mr. Smith to present new evidence of his innocence in the tragic death of his infant son, Chandler.
Mr. Smith was blamed for the death of Chandler in 2002, based entirely on a forensic diagnosis of “shaken baby syndrome.” Advancements in scientific research and understanding of infant head trauma since Mr. Smith’s conviction today reveal that Chandler suffered a death by natural causes resulting from injuries sustained during his complicated premature birth and subsequent seizures. This new evidence established that Mr. Smith was wrongfully convicted of felony murder and aggravated battery and sentenced to life in prison in 2003.
The new evidence exonerating Mr. Smith includes an expert opinion from Dr. Saadi Ghatan, the chair of neurosurgery at Mount Sinai West and Mount Sinai Morningside. Dr. Ghatan stated that the cause of Chandler’s death was pre-existing conditions resulting from various birth injuries and other events, and not from “shaken baby syndrome” or intentional abuse.
In March of 2021, Mr. Smith’s legal team from the Southern Center for Human Rights filed an extraordinary motion for new trial, based on the massive shift in the scientific community’s understanding of infant head trauma. After the trial court denied Mr. Smith the chance to present his new evidence of innocence, he appealed. On appeal, legal and medical experts filed two of their own amicus briefs in support of a new trial for Mr. Smith. The legal brief was signed by a diverse group, including the Innocence Network and several state Innocence Projects, as well as the Center for Integrity in Forensic Science, the Forensic Justice Project, and a prosecution’s conviction integrity unit from Texas. The medical brief was filed on behalf of six doctors specializing in pediatric neurosurgery, ophthalmology, radiology, and child abuse.
“We are grateful that the Supreme Court unanimously agreed that Mr. Smith is entitled to a hearing to present the new evidence of his innocence,” said Mark Loudon-Brown, Senior Staff Attorney at the Southern Center for Human Rights. “We have provided the Gwinnett County District Attorney with new medical evidence demonstrating that Mr. Smith is innocent, and again call upon her to vacate his conviction.”