Examining Shaken Baby Syndrome Convictions in Light of New Medical Scientific Research
34 Pages Posted: 11 Oct 2012 Last revised: 11 Oct 2013
Date Written: October 10, 2012
This is the text of a talk given by Keith Findley as part of the Integris Law & Medicine Lecture Series at Oklahoma City University School of Law on September 27, 2011, with commentary by Dr. Patrick Barnes, Professor David Moran, and Professor Carrie Sperling. The talks address controversies that have arisen in the past ten or twelve years over the diagnosis Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) (now known also more expansively as Abusive Head Trauma (AHT)) and prosecution of individuals based on the hypothesis that the child was injured or died after an adult caregiver violently shook the child. The talks examine the science-dependent nature of prosecutions (or child removal actions) based on the shaking hypothesis, as well as emerging controversies from new medical research about whether shaking can cause such injuries and death, at least without causing extensive neck and cervical spine injuries; whether the indicators previously attributed almost exclusively to shaking -- such as subdural hematomas and retinal hemorrhages -- are indeed diagnostic of abuse; whether other causes, both natural and accidental, can mimic abuse and lead medical professionals astray; and whether the onset of clear neurological impairment can reliably be timed to the infliction of injuries so that the medical science can be used to identity the perpetrator (assuming there was one). This talk examines how the legal system is being called upon to re-examine SBS convictions in light of this evolving medical science.
Keywords: Shaken Baby Syndrome, SBS, Abusive Head Trauma, AHT, innocence, wrongful conviction, subdural hematoma, retinal hemorrhages
JEL Classification: K42
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation