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Law School Case Brief

Fabritz v. Traurig - 583 F.2d 697 (4th Cir. 1978)


It is a violation of due process to convict and punish a man without evidence of his guilt.


Appellant Virginia Lynnette Fabritz left her daughter with friends while she attended the funeral of her father. When Fabritz returned from her trip, her daughter was covered with 70 bruises and complaining of a stomachache. Fabritz put her daughter to bed, fed her liquids, and repeatedly took her temperature. When it was clear that her daughter's condition was not improving, Fabritz summoned her neighbor for assistance. The neighbor testified that they bathed the child in alcohol. Fabritz’s daughter became unresponsive, and an ambulance was called. The daughter died upon her arrival at the hospital. Fabritz was convicted in state court of abuse in the form of delayed medical attention touching the death of her daughter, in violation of MD. Code Ann. art. 27, § 35A(a). The federal district court denied now-inmate Fabritz’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Fabritz sought review of the judgment.


Did the federal district court err in denying inmate Fabritz’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus after she was convicted, under a state law, of abuse in the form of delayed medical attention to her daughter?




The United States Court of Appeals vacated the the district court's judgment and remanded the case to the district court with instructions to grant the writ of habeas corpus. The Court found that the evidence was utterly bare of proof of a consciousness of criminality on the part of appellant Fabritz. Fabritz may have used poor judgment, but she did not realize the severity of her daughter's condition. Without medical knowledge to place Fabritz on notice of the fatal nature of her daughter's symptoms, Fabritz treated her as best she knew. 

Regarding the standard of review, the Court explained that the ultimate question presented was whether the charges against a petitioner for habeas corpus were so totally devoid of evidentiary support as to render the conviction unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court's decision of this question turns not on the sufficiency of the evidence, but on whether this conviction rests upon any evidence at all.

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