Shaken Baby Syndrome convictions come under scrutiny

Alejandra de la Fuente — June 23, 2009 @ 10:27 AM — Comments (10)

Pullitzer Price-winner Maurice Possley has a lengthy article on Shaken Baby Syndrome today on

At the time the case was unremarkable—one of thousands of successful prosecutions during the past 30 years of parents and other care-givers who have been found guilty of charges ranging from manslaughter to murder, based on findings of what is known as the triad—retinal hemorrhage, bleeding in the brain and brain swelling. Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) is one of the few instances in the criminal justice system where the diagnosis is the basis for prosecution.

That last sentence is the most remarkable: the diagnosis itself is the basis for prosecution. It is remarkable because, as we know, scientists are fundamentally like any other human being: they are fallible. Oftentimes, like in fingerprint cases, or serology cases, a scientist will provide testimony that is corroborated by other circumstantial or physical factors, and the holism of the evidence against a defendant will lead to a conviction. Oftentimes the scientist’s evidence is, as it were, the last straw, but the prosecution would maintain a fairly strong case without their testimony.

On the other hand, these SBS cases are remarkable because it seems like a scientist’s testimony was enough by itself to prosecute, and even win a conviction.

The article opens by telling the story of Audrey Edmunds, a Wisconsin woman who had her SBS conviction overturned last year.

Edmunds was granted a new trial by a judge who ruled that the testimony “shows that there has been a shift in mainstream medical opinion.” In effect, the scientific foundation of the syndrome had been undermined to the extent that a new jury would probably have a reasonable doubt about Edmunds’ guilt…

A soon-to-be-published analysis of shaken baby cases and recent developments in the medical community by University of Maine School of Law professor Deborah Tuerkheimer presents persuasive evidence and raises troubling questions about whether many of these convictions were of innocent people who were found guilty on the basis of faulty science. The analysis is scheduled to be published in September by Washington University Law Review.

As science changes, the criminal justice system often struggles to keep up. SBS is one such example, and because of the “shift in mainstream medical opinion,” these cases ought to come under heightened scrutiny and intense review.

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Comments and Pings on “Shaken Baby Syndrome convictions come under scrutiny”

  1. Pingback from COACHEP » Blog Archive » Posts about Junk Science as of June 23, 2009.

    […] informal settlement and praying and writing lots. I’ve had a great time in the rainbow nation Shaken Baby Syndrome convictions come under scrutiny – 06/23/2009 Pullitzer Price-winner Maurice Possley has a lengthy article on […]

     June 23, 2009 @ 3:14 pm

  2. I DON’T knoiw how faulty the Theory is but I know in our case this diagnosis is faulty. We shouldn’t throw CPS nets out that are so large that they catch not only truly guilty parties but innocent parents too. We lose one son and then the State takes away the other one. I will never look at life, people, my country, my government and medical field in the same light. I distrust this process and system for this is what has kept our remaining twin away from us….After born 8 weeks early our smallest discordant twoin, Cameron, passed away weighing three pounds less than IDENTICAL TWIN BROTHER. There should be a mandatory differential diagnosis and we should keep a database of every detail in these cases so we can learn from it, understand how prevalent this theory is…if it really does exist or not and make EVERY effort to create laws that not only protect children but also ensure innocent parents do not have to suffer and become traumatized.

    How in the hell is it right for parents to suffer the loss of their son and on top of this haev their other child taken by Child Protective Services and the straw that breaks the camel’s back is after all of this….being looked at as possibly someone who has caused all of this to your child? Eevn when proven innocent people still look at you different.

    There is no way to ever be compensated for the loss of your child or for it being falsely alleged that the parents have something to do with it. I am not sure how someone that really has abused a child would feel but I CAN tell you how someone innocent feels–a combination of anger, sadness, traumatized, victimized, humiliated, shunned–it was unimaginable but now it isn’t. How may people on TV did I say are guilty and need to pay….how many of those. I wonder now, really were innocent and not deserving of the judgements I placed on them?

    If the theory does or does not exist I can not say. I can say that in our situation it was misdiganosed so maybe that makes me biased in feeling misdiagnosis has to occur more often than most believe. If you are reading this then you must care about those in this situation and I beg of you to help anyone in this situation so they don’t have to go thru what we have. No one deserves this pain or the undeserved vicous stares by those who doubt you…at the hospital that should not make legal conclusions.

    When we first got to the hospital everyone was so kind and compassionate…..the next day the hospital staff all stared at me and my wife with hate and it was all we could do to visit our son before he passed for we couldn’t properly mourn and be with him being in such an unwelcoming atmosphere.


  4. Yes I too saw something similar already. Though to esteem very interestingly

  5. Unfortunately, the justice system is not set up to protect the innocent. I experience something similar. I am praying for you and you family.

  6. My Son, Byron Mahler, was convicted of SBS in 1995 by the Marine Corps. We had several doctors testify it WAS NOT SBS but since the San Diego Coroner was retired Navy, the primary care physician was Navy(and the Coroner was his mentor) and Camp Pendleton was in line for a $2 million CHILD ABUSE PREVENTION GRANT (which they had already spent) there were several child abuse convictions in just a few months. My Son was sentenced to LIFE IN LEAVENWORTH. My Grandson, Kade Heath, died of DiGeorge’s Anomaly. We have several opinions, including DR. DIGEORGE, to back this finding.
    We are pleading with The Innocence Project to help us. We already know what THE REAL CAUSE of Kade’s death was. We just need SOMEONE TO LISTEN!! Thank you….

     Debra Mahler — February 15, 2011 @ 3:33 pm
  7. i like this

  8. The strange that about SBS is that though it’s being challenged daily, theory is flawed but innocent people are being convicted. Personally I feel that detectives and prosecutors feel someone has to pay for the death of a child even someone innocent. I know of a young man was convicted of SBS simply because Dr. Lucy Rouke Adams said that the child died from the triads and blunt force trauma. Though the child had fallen the saturday on a brick porch (mother never took to hospital) the child fell down 14 flights of hardwood stairs monday while mother’s boyfriend was watching child. Child went to hospital got check visual observation and a cat scan. Though child was complaining of his head hurting his behavior was sluggish he was falling asleep. The child was unresponsive around 12:30 am. Boyfriend was charged with SBS. Even though the mother admitted she was the one that shook the baby. Because Dr. Adams said the boyfriend did it, he was found guilty. The detective, the mother and a jailhouse snitch all changed their story several times and the judge allowed the testimonies to be accepted. The boyfriends family is confused how the one that admitted shaking the baby and who was high on drugs never got charged with anything. Mother has been investigated by child services before meeting boyfriend, boyfriend has never been investigated for any type hurt to a child by child services. Yes he has a criminal pass but nothing to do with children. He sits is prison while mother is out doing her thing with whoever she desires. She has problems with drugs but she’s free. The justice system in america is flawed and innocent people do and will get wrongfully convicted and incarcerated. It’s so sad even the politicians know it’s flawed and they do nothing about it.

     Jose DeRocha — May 27, 2012 @ 12:09 am
  9. My brothers 3 children were take away from him and his gf. social services came to us since we were family.We took them in as most family would. 3 1/2 weeks later the 7 month old has a seizure, my wife calls 911 . short story short , my wife was convicted of SBS and is now serving an 18 yr sentence. simply because she was last person with the child. The child was born with a club foot, fetal alcohol syndrome and a malformation on his buttocks. My brother told us and another mutual friend that his gf would shake the baby and scream at him to shut the f up. but in court he would not admit to those statements. obviously there is so much more to this case than room here to write but , i have read several articles about different SBS similar to how doctors , police and prosicuters handled this case that its seemed like they had 1 basic guideline they followed and wouldnt stray from that.

  10. Just wanted to say I am so thankful that life is so much better today as compared to 2009 comments above. We will never be the same after losing our son, Cameron. We are thankful that his surviving twin, Dalton was returned. We are thankful for our attorney and all of the experts in our case. We are even thankful to the prosecution as they were not spiteful and actually seemed to want to make the right decision in the case. The case worker was even supportive in allowing us the maximum time with our son. I am glad the courts and medical profession are finally opening up to the realities of this diagnosis. Merry Christmas.

     Michael Bruce — December 23, 2014 @ 1:02 pm

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