Monday, June 22, 2009

Science undermining 'shaken baby syndrome' cases

So-called "shaken baby syndrome" is another area where it increasingly appears that flawed forensic testimony helped secure numerous false convictions over the years, particularly among parents and child care workers: According to an essay by Maurice Possley at The Crime Report:

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.

Tuerkheimer, who is joining the DePaul University College of Law faculty on July 1, points to new research in the United States and abroad showing that a variety of circumstances, including something as seemingly innocuous as falls from a short height, can cause fatal head injuries that appear very similar to injuries routinely diagnosed as SBS.

If research shows that the physical conditions that once automatically resulted in a prosecution could actually have been the result of an accident, the implications are enormous.

“Given the scientific developments…we may surmise that a sizeable portion of the universe of defendants convicted of SBS-based crimes is, in all likelihood, factually innocent,” Tuerkheimer writes, adding that a far greater number of defendants among the group were likely convicted on legally insufficient evidence.

“While we cannot know how many convictions are ‘unsafe’ without systematic case review, a comparison of the problematic category of SBS convictions to DNA and other mass exonerations to date reveals that this injustice is commensurate with any yet seen in the criminal justice arena,” Tuerkheimer writes.

Keith Findley, a clinical professor of law and co-director of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, who headed Audrey Edmunds legal team, said, “The system is sending people to prison based on findings of beyond a reasonable doubt when in many of the cases the only evidence is medical evidence on which many medical experts…have a substantial doubt.”

He added, “This is not about being opposed to child abuse prosecutions. No critic of SBS theory wants anyone to get away with child abuse, but when the diagnosis becomes the entire basis for the prosecution, that’s problematic.”

Read the full story for more detail on why such testimony has come under fire. Convictions are still being obtained based on this forensic theory even though “there is no consensus among medical professionals as to whether the symptoms that have traditionally been attributed to SBS are necessarily indicative of intentional shaking.”

Like arson, this is a crime for which people can be convicted based solely on "expert" forensic testimony. But the underlying tenets of "shaken baby syndrome," which have been relied upon in court for many years, have now been widely disputed by credible, scientific research:
Dr. Bruce Gross, a Fellow of the American College of Forensic Examiners, writing earlier this year in The Forensic Examiner, noted that studies have called into question the SBS triad as the result of only violent shaking. “The prevailing notion is that the injuries ‘characteristic’ of SBS are equivalent to those seen in a 35 mph automobile accident in which the infant victim was unrestrained, or a fall from a two –story building. Yet, research (including biomechanical analysis) has shown that, although fortunately not the norm, infants and toddlers can and do die from falls as short as 1-4 feet.”

Gross added, “In brief, biomechanical research suggests that basing the diagnosis of SBS only on the presence of the triad of symptoms [retinal hemorrhage, bleeding in the brain and brain swelling] lacks scientific certainty.”

Last year I got to hear a presentation about some of the biomechanical simulations that appear to undermine the traditional shaken baby diagnosis. Bottom line: the symptoms that supposedly characterize SBS could also have been explained by accidents or birth defects, but doctors instead testified it could only have happened through malicious shaking. These conclusions were based on speculative theories that, by their original authors' own admission, relied on circumstantial guesswork rather than experimentation and proof. Today more experimentation has been done and the original SBS theorizing would never hold up to peer-reviewed scrutiny. But the power of precedent continues to give such theories a foothold in the courtroom.

When you think about it, the death of a baby is already such a terrible event, how much more would it compound the tragedy to then falsely accuse a parent or child care worker of homicide? But to judge by the latest research, that appears to be exactly what's happened in many of these cases since the diagnosis was first popularized in the '70s.

The shaken baby cases provide further evidence, if more were needed, that innocent people can be convicted in many more circumstances than just those where DNA is available to definitively exonerate a defendant.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this! I'm one of the thousands of family members of a falsely accused person behind prison bars due to over zealous, crazed doctors who think they are God and are allowed to make up the rules as they go to get a conviction. God forbid if children actually have underlying medical conditions that predispose them to suffer a reaction to a small fall, a vaccination or just some other illness that is not obvious. It's time people learn the truth and stop the madness as it's criminal to charge innocent people on a THEORY that is ever changing.

Anonymous said...

I doubt that any of those convicted ever did what they were accused of. I can peddle doubt as good as the best of them. I try not to think about the victims since I want my guys to get off. That's why I always try to generate doubt. I sing that one tune non-stop and don't think about the rest.

Anonymous said...

How can professionals be so full of themselves they destroy a person's life at a time they are grieving the loss of a child. There seems to a an enormous amount of junk science and prosecutor hocus pocus to get convictions in place of the truth. Putting people in prison has gotten to be big business in Texas so don't expect things to change any time soon. Even Ex-Vic President Chaney is a big stock holder in the Prison Business.

Anonymous said...

Side Bar - Grits I bet TYC Central Office is glad you stopped the TYC Comments. Even though there were abuses there was the reporting of many things that TYC wanted to keep secret! The other TYC web blog you linked to has little or no traffic. It is a shame the only real outlet for inside TYC information has been closed.

Back to the topic - If this starts to overturn convictions it could be bigger than DNA. I wonder how many people have been convicted using the bad information of Experts?

Anonymous said...

We all know our prisons are full of innocent people.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

9:28, your sarcasm is SOOO convincing! Oh, wait. You're FOS. Nobody is claiming child abuse doesn't occur or overlooking real victims. But science does not support the shaken baby syndrome theories, just like science debunked the FBI's claim that they could identify which "batch" from a factory a particular bullet came from. Bogus forensics don't do a single thing to help victims. What they need is truth and justice.

11:17, maybe there were things said in TYC comments that needed to come out, but they were intermixed with smears, lies, bile and petty carping, so nobody could tell the good info from the bad. Commenters were warned many times; it shouldn't have come as a surprise.

Let's stick to the topic at hand.

Anonymous said...

If you look at the studies, you will see that there are *no* studies showing that children die from short falls or the like with any frequency at all. There are millions of short falls per day tht children suffer and never even go tot he hospital, much less die. There are thousands more that result in medical treatment, but nothing approaching death. Doctors see this stuff all the time, and doctors also know when the history provided by the caregiver does not match the injuries observed in the child. Convictions are obtained upon proof beyond a *reasonable* doubt. Defenses based on the idea that there is a one in a million chance that the child might have suffered an accidental injury are not defenses at all, they are straw-grasping. If criminals in child death cases were set free based on the odds of an accidental injury in these cases, then no criminal could ever be convicted under any circumstances, because *no* evidence is ever enough to eliminate *all* possibilities.

And no, I do not think it would be fair or just for an innocent person to be convicted if a child actually died by accident. But neither do I think that it would be a smart move to disarm the police because they might accidentally shoot an innocent person sometime. I recognize the risk that an injustice could occur in any system we propose, but the amount of injustice that would occur without these conviction is intolerable. To allow a million child killers to go free just because *one* of them might be innocent is more than any sane person could ask from any criminal justice system.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

9:49, it's you who are ignoring the studies. Biomechanical simulations have shown that falls CAN cause the types of injuries you describe. The "one in a million" is your (fake, made up) number, not a conclusion by any study.

When you declare "doctors see this stuff all the time," you're implying we should rely on gut assumptions by generalists who've NOT studied the specific issue over conclusions based on the scientific method that failed to support that folk wisdom. A couple of hundred years ago, most docs would have testified in favor of using leeches for fever. 60 years ago they'd have supported lobotomies for the mentally ill. But when actual experimental science was applied to those widely held medical conclusions, such theories were debunked, which is what we're seeing now in shaken baby cases.

Finally, just because many infant falls don't result in death doesn't change the fact that the symptoms cited for the SBS diagnosis cannot be relied upon as prima facie evidence of abuse. Where there's other evidence, which is true in many cases, that's great - prosecute away - but when an "expert" testifying on SBS is the only accusatory evidence, that's simply not strong enough to justify a conviction.

Anonymous said...

Grits, I for one am NOT under any sort of court supervision for shaken baby syndrome; However, I would like to say thanks for putting this any ANY truthful data out that helps to shine the light on government lies and media bias. The information about alot of offenses out there are super-hype'd from media and politicians regarding some offenses. Whether it is shaken babies, murderers, or sex offenders we as Americans MUST begin to find and show the real data about the people that we throw away everyday. The sheken baby issues is only one more example of how the portrayals of people that have been in the legal system are not getting a fair shake given that media and politicians, as well as special interest groups forwarding an agenda, continuously give false information to get readers or votes for upcoming elections. My challenge to everyone out there is read the truthful information before you buy into anything that media or elected officials try to shovel down your throat.

Anonymous said...

"To allow a million child killers to go free just because *one* of them might be innocent is more than any sane person could ask from any criminal justice system."

But that is exactly what our legal system is SUPPOSED to do regarding the innocent. I am sure that if there were ever a situation that you wre to find yourself in, that you would pray nightly to be that ONE set free..

Anonymous said...

“Given the scientific developments…we may surmise that a sizeable portion of the universe of defendants convicted of SBS-based crimes is, in all likelihood, factually innocent,” Tuerkheimer writes, adding that a far greater number of defendants among the group were likely convicted on legally insufficient evidence...."
SURMISE (definition: an idea or opinion formed from evidence that is neither positive nor conclusive; conjecture; guess)..yes the quote is accurate...lets stir up all this distrust in the criminal justice system by evidence that is neither positive nor conclusive but pure conjecture...lots of alarming finger-pointing based on inconclusive the speculative conjecturors as defense witnesses and let a jury thoughtfully weigh, deliberate, and render a verdict...that IS the criminal justice system...

Anonymous said...

12:49 - of course if I were innocent, I would want to be the ONE set free. I would also support a 5 mph speed limit on the interstate if you told me I was going to be in a fatal accident tomorrow. I would also support a 200% tax increase for cancer research if I were convinced that I would die of cancer without that funding. I would also support taking all firearms away from the police if I knew that sometime in the future I or my child would be accidentally shot and killed by an officer who mistook one of us for a criminal. But I am more convinced that the rest of society not only does not want these things, but in fact prefers to live with the risk.

The only way to design a system to completely eliminate the risk of convicting a single innocent person is to subject all of society to the risks involved in convicting no guilty person.

I, for one, do not subscribe to the view that it is better to let a million guilty murderers go unpunished to avoid convicting one innocent person. If you do, perhaps you should start looking for a country with a perfect criminal justice system. But I'll give you a hint: don't bother with a map of the Earth, since you won't find it.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Again, 3:12, that one in a million number you're citing is a BS made-up number being tossed around by anonymous blog commenters. Anybody can make up fake statistics to back up their points, but that doesn't obligate the rest of us to accept them when they have no basis in reality.

I think in shaken baby cases where there's no accusatory evidence besides a doctor's testimony about shaken baby syndrome, the ratio of innocent women (mostly) convicted is much, MUCH higher than you would like to pretend.

Anonymous said...

9:49 says, "Convictions are obtained upon proof beyond a *reasonable* doubt."

If you believe that, then I have some bridges to sell. The shame is that convictions are based on shoddy investigations, those same doctors swearing to a jury that injuries formed by dozens of manners can ONLY come from one, and threats to the accused until he/she takes a plea. Never underestimate the power of fear to motivate someone to plead guilty to something they never ever did. In addition, in some states there does not need to be full discovery by the prosecutor to the defense attorney, whereby even exculpatory evidence could be legally (yes, read: LEGALLY) withheld from the defense. Something say like blood workups that would have shown coagulation problems, proving the baby was already medically compromised prior to a short fall that allegedly all babies survive.

competing interests: my daughter died in 2007, allegedly from child abuse that never occured, merely a short fall and CPR (subsequently hidden like the lab reports that are missing), not shaking or deliberately causing injury in any manner.

Greegor47 said...

Here in Iowa and every case of unexplained or SIDS death is investigated as a homicide with Police and CPS caseworkers in swarms. When these come up, CPS offices empty out of caseworkers, all vexing the grieving parents and hoping like vultures that the parents in that moment of anguish express any feelings of guilt whatsoever that CPS can whip into a case in their Kangaroo Juvenile Courts.

Our law treats presumes such deaths as PROBABLE CAUSE to believe there was foul play. In fact, statistically very few SIDS deaths are homicides. The idea that it's PROBABLE CAUSE is a LIE.

""Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain"" Iowa state motto on our flag.
"Constitutional arguments are for another court." Iowa Juvenile Court Judge in a CPS case.

We also had an INCOMPETENT Medical Examiner (an older Dr.) who decided that a case was a homicide based on his autopsy. Experts reviewing his work
decided he was SO WRONG as to be tragic in itself!

The parents sued the INCOMPETENT Medical Examiner but he was granted immunity because he was serving a public function as a Medical Examiner.

Think of the HARM this idiot did to that family at their lowest point, to be WRONGLY accused of murdering their kid by such an educated moron and then to be told that his damage was protected by IMMUNITY!

The idea behind these immunity laws basically allows jackasses who are NOT willing to bet their career on their assertions to abuse people like that and CONTINUE to do so!

If somebody acting in an official and professional capacity like that doesn't know exactly what they are doing and is too arrogant to consult with others FIRST, then they SHOULD be sued for MILLIONS.

Immunity laws like that create more evils in our system than they prevent.

The excuse that law suits are a hassle for government or government workers should be WAY behind the imperative that CITIZENS RIGHTS should be protected, especially FROM government jackasses like that Medical Examiner.

Wrong convictions of Parents/people is indeed a nightmare, I just wanted to point out that CPS and their garbage courts destroy THOUSANDS of families for each one of those.

CPS and their ""Family Courts"" operate with LOW standards of evidence and LOW burden of proof as if they are NOT threatening a sacred LIBERTY INTEREST, which in our laws generally dictates HIGHER standards.

Child abuse is supposed to be a CRIME yet most of it is investigated by CPS morons who would actually ruin a good criminal case because they are so horribly unqualified but officious ""crusaders"".

"You're not facing Jail so you don't get those higher court standards."
( They just want to take your kids, as if that is not a LIBERTY INTEREST. )

The states LOWER those standards because CPS is the gang who can't shoot straight and if held to the APPROPRIATE standard they would NEVER be able to make a case. In other words, the state passes laws giving itself an UNFAIR and UNCONSTITUTIONAL advantage in those courts so that their moron caseworkers can make cases. It's another arena of STATEISM (State over People) that has gone on for decades, destroyed thousands of families needlessly.

CPS agencies generate the stats that justify their own expansion with each decision to remove children.

The CPS INDUSTRY has destroyed THOUSANDS of families based on SBS, Munchausens By Proxy and Ritual Satanic Child Abuse which FBI reported does not exist.

Often that has less to do with any actual family dysfunction and more to do with whether the parents were beholden and submissive to the STATIST and SOCIALIST function represented by officious caseworkers.

Mr. James Duane, a professor at Regent Law School
( This applies MORE SO to talking to ""harmless"" CPS workers )

Don't Talk To COPS Part 1 27:26

Anonymous said...

Actually there is a video that cannot be released, but is used in court cases that shows a 2 year old girl die from falling from a 24 inch little tyke slide onto the ground. The grandma was video taping her and when she got to the hospital she had all the symptoms of SBS. I did see this video in court. I have been going through the accusations of SBS for two years now for a little boy that was in my daycare. He did not die, but I would like to say that he was dropped off and 10 minutes later collapsed and I have been blamed ever since for his injuries. I ran a daycare for 3 years with no previous injuries on anyone and have two toddlers of my own with no history of injuries or abuse. But, I have been dragged through the system for 2 very long years and go to trial in Jan. 2010 for this.
There is two documented videos of babysitters caught on tape shaking infants, both children were brought to the hospital and released within hours due to no findings of any injury at all!
So for those who say no one dies from a short fall, I saw it happen(the parents of the little girl do not want the tape released to public to share the death of their daughter, understandable).
For those who say SBS does cause these injuries, I saw the two videos of the sitters shaking and they couldn't have done it any harder on these tiny infants, and the children had NO injuries at all!
People do cause child abuse, but to say someone shook a baby that came into the hospital without cuts, bruises, neck injury...nothing at all but a closed head injury, it is very hard to believe you can shake a baby that hard and not leave serious neck problems or even decapitate the childs head.
Think about it, why were you taught to support the baby's neck? But you can whip it back and forth and not leave any damage at all???

Anonymous said...

11/23/09 - Your post was heartfelt as I sympathize with you and completely understand the position you are in. I too own a daycare with my wife, and she and/or another employee is being accused of Shaking a child in her daycare. However, the day of the child's injury, he was picked up by a parent with no obvious injuries. Later that night (over 3 hours later and after eating dinner and playing with a sibling), he experienced a fall at home whereby he hit his head quite hard on a carpeted floor. After rushing him to the hospital he had all the traditional symptoms of SBS. Rather than assuming the last person in contact with the child was the perpetrator,the investigators have focused on my wife and the daycare instead. The investigators have claimed all along that short falls cannot cause SBS symptoms, and the treating doctors have backed up these claims. I guess they assume it is easier to believe people are lying than to question the science. Thankfully this child did not die either.

Obviously, I am frustrated as I continue to read stories such as yours and all of the new research coming out debunking SBS. Regarding the video you mentioned, I understand the family's reasons for not wanting it released to the public. But you said it is available for court cases. Do you know how I could obtain it? We too are scheduled to go to trial next year, and any additional evidence we can gather would be tremendous. Good luck with your struggle!

Greegor47 said...

Recently, Suzanne Listro the CT ""Child Protection"" caseworker accused of manslaughter in the death of a 7 month old foster boy has had the full "Dream Team" very expensive defense most real parents would never get. Very expensive expert testimony was brought in to challenge the whole Shaken Baby mythos.

Shaken Baby is DOGMA for the ""Child Protection"" INDUSTRY but as soon as one of THEIR OWN gets their nipple in the ringer the CWLA or the caseworker UNION is right there to pay for the DREAM TEAM defense most parents would never get. In this case to combat the SBS DOGMA pushed by the whole ""Child Protection"" INDUSTRY itself!

It's as evil as the way ""Child Protection"" caseworkers fertively imagine Munchausens By Proxy everywhere when it is EXTREMELY rare. Never mind that Dr, Sir, Professor Roy Meadows was a perjurous quack who actually SHREDDED his ground breaking historical research on that!

Britain didn't punish him very seriously considering the harm his lies caused.

Interestingly he got caught by the
Royal Statistical Society for spouting BOGUS statistics in court about SIDS or "cot" death as the Brits call it.

The whole ""Child Protection"" INDUSTRY is a giant scam that uses the excuse of privacy for the child to run SECRET COURTS and skip CONSTITUTIONAL JURIES even
though they tread on LIBERTY INTERESTS that are more sacred than merely going to prison.

Removing children from parents is
horrific and proven to be damaging
to the children, not to mention
the whole family.

It's a very STATIST thing to do,
and truly violates the basic
Bill Of Rights part of our US Constitution.

What clown decided that the only
process DUE was these lousy secret
Kangaroo Courts?

Clearly more serious process is DUE.

SECRET COURTS are obviously
contrary to our Constitution.

Franz Kafka's "The Trial" used to be used as criticism of the old USSR's legal system, and now that
we beat Communism we have become
that which we used to ridicule.

By the way, the original German title more exactly translates to
"The Process".

Most parents don't have something
like CWLA, the state, or the caseworkers UNION buying them
the DREAM TEAM kind of expert
testimony or even VIGOROROUS

Most people do not know this but our court system actively discourages attorneys from
providing parents a truly VIGOROUS representation in these cases.

A number of activist Family Rights atorneys have been disbarred over
other things as punishment for providing parents with a VIGOROUS DEFENSE.

Greg S. Hanson, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

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