shaken baby syndrome

Panel Discussion – Wrongful Convictions in Shaken Baby Death Cases

Screen Shot 2015-06-06 at 14.41.46Much has been said about the science and medical findings in Shaken Baby Deaths.  Now new, or not so new,  opinions say  the injuries to the brain which is used as fact evidence is not accurate. This panel discusses these issues and the investigation that goes into these deaths.  The panel members are Craig Smith of C.B. Smith Training & Consulting Ltd. in Canada,  Paul Parker of Parker Medicolegal Services in Arizona and Dr. Judy Melinek of the Alameda County Coroners Office in California.  All panelist contact information is located below.

What  started this discussion was a recent article written for CBS News that shed doubt on the medical findings of a Shaken Baby  Cases and whether or not those finding have lead to the wrongful conviction of parents and care givers in these cases.   That article is reposted below again for review.  This panel does not and did not intend to discredit the writer of this article or CBS News.  The intent was to discuss this opposing opinion and bring  light to the need for accurate and complete investigation so that medical findings alone are not disputed.  The panel does an amazing job at bringing out  every aspect of  this discussion.

Resource talked about on the show 

Mr. Craig Smith referenced at report generated by the  National District Attorney Association that outlines defense objections to head trauma injuries.  That publication can be found here and downloaded  for free.

National District Attorney Association

Panelist Contact Information

Craig SmithCraig Smith 

Paul ParkerPaul Parker 

Melinek-Slide_0Dr. Judy Melinek 

 


 

 

Questionable convictions in “shaken baby” cases?

Deborah Tuerkheimer is a Professor of Law at Northwestern University and the author of “Flawed Convictions: ‘Shaken Baby Syndrome’ and the Inertia of Injustice.” She also appears onSaturday’s “48 Hours” investigation into the case of Melissa Calusinski, a former day care provider who says she is wrongfully convicted in a toddler’s death. Here, Tuerkheimer weighs in on questionable convictions in child death cases. Her opinions do not necessarily reflect those of CBS News.

A few months ago, a 55-year-old Florida day care provider became yet another caregiver accused of shaking a toddler to death. The woman, who had worked with children for decades, denied harming the boy. But pediatricians concluded that this was a case of Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS).

Even before an autopsy was performed, the state charged the woman with murder. She is being held in jail without bond and if convicted, she faces mandatory life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Based on the press reports, this case resembles many that I have written about in my book, Flawed Convictions: “Shaken Baby Syndrome” and the Inertia of Injustice. Without witnesses or external signs of abuse, the classic diagnosis of Shaken Baby Syndrome rests on three neurological symptoms, otherwise known as the “triad”: bleeding beneath the outermost layer of the brain, retinal bleeding, and brain swelling.

These symptoms are said to prove that a baby was violently shaken and, what’s more, to identify the abuser– whoever was present when the child was last lucid. Shaken Baby Syndrome is, in essence, a medical diagnosis of murder. In order to convict, prosecutors must rely entirely on the claims of science.

But the science has shifted. In recent years, there has been a growing consensus among experts that the neurological symptoms once viewed as conclusive evidence of abuse may well have natural causes, and that old brain injuries can re-bleed upon little or no impact.

In short, current science raises significant questions about the guilt of many caregivers convicted of shaking babies.

Reflecting real movement in the direction of doubt, this past spring, a federal judge in Chicago issued a ruling of “actual innocence” in the case of Jennifer Del Prete, a caregiver accused of shaking a baby in her care. (My book describes this trial in detail.) Del Prete was able to show that, based on what doctors now know about alternative causes of the triad, no reasonable jury could possibly find Del Prete guilty of murder. Indeed, according to the reviewing judge, a lack of evidentiary support for the theory of Shaken Baby Syndrome means that the diagnosis is arguably “more an article of faith than a proposition of science.”

Our legal system has been slow to absorb this new reality. As a consequence, innocent parents and caregivers remain incarcerated and, perhaps more inexplicably, prosecutions based solely on the “triad” symptoms continue even to this day. The cautionary tale of Shaken Baby Syndrome shows that our system is too inclined to stay the course, and awful injustices can result.

Questionable convictions in “shaken baby” cases

Shaken BabyThe term “shaken baby syndrome” (SBS) was developed to explain those instances in which severe intracranial trauma occurred in the absence of signs of external head trauma. SBS is the severe intentional application of violent force (shaking) in one or more episodes, resulting in intracranial injuries to the child. Physical abuse of children by shaking usually is not an isolated event. Many shaken infants show evidence of previous trauma.

Frequently, the shaking has been preceded by other types of abuse.

Mechanism of Injury

The mechanism of injury in SBS is thought to result from a combination of physical factors, including the proportionately large cranial size of infants, the laxity of their neck muscles, and the vulnerability of their intracranial bridging veins, which is due to the fact that the subarachnoid space (the space between the arachnoid membrane and the pia mater, which are the inner two of the three membranes that cover the brain) are somewhat larger in infants. However, the primary factor is the proportionately large size of the adult relative to the child. Shaking by admitted assailants has produced remarkably similar injury patterns:

  • The infant is held by the chest, facing the assailant, and is shaken violently back and forth.
  • The shaking causes the infant’s head to whip forward and backward from the chest to the back.
  • The infant’s chest is compressed, and the arms and legs move about with a whiplash action.
  • At the completion of the assault, the infant may be limp and either not breathing or breathing shallowly.
  • During the assault, the infant’s head may strike a solid object.
  • After the shaking, the infant may be dropped, thrown, or slammed onto a solid surface.
  • The last two events likely explain the many cases of blunt injury, including skull fractures, found in shaken infants. However, although blunt injury may be seen at autopsy in shaken infants, research data suggest that shaking in and of itself is often sufficient to cause serious intracranial injury or death.

 

 

Questionable convictions in “shaken baby” cases?

Deborah Tuerkheimer is a Professor of Law at Northwestern University and the author of “Flawed Convictions: ‘Shaken Baby Syndrome’ and the Inertia of Injustice.” She also appears onSaturday’s “48 Hours” investigation into the case of Melissa Calusinski, a former day care provider who says she is wrongfully convicted in a toddler’s death. Here, Tuerkheimer weighs in on questionable convictions in child death cases. Her opinions do not necessarily reflect those of CBS News.

A few months ago, a 55-year-old Florida day care provider became yet another caregiver accused of shaking a toddler to death. The woman, who had worked with children for decades, denied harming the boy. But pediatricians concluded that this was a case of Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS).

Even before an autopsy was performed, the state charged the woman with murder. She is being held in jail without bond and if convicted, she faces mandatory life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Based on the press reports, this case resembles many that I have written about in my book, Flawed Convictions: “Shaken Baby Syndrome” and the Inertia of Injustice. Without witnesses or external signs of abuse, the classic diagnosis of Shaken Baby Syndrome rests on three neurological symptoms, otherwise known as the “triad”: bleeding beneath the outermost layer of the brain, retinal bleeding, and brain swelling.

These symptoms are said to prove that a baby was violently shaken and, what’s more, to identify the abuser– whoever was present when the child was last lucid. Shaken Baby Syndrome is, in essence, a medical diagnosis of murder. In order to convict, prosecutors must rely entirely on the claims of science.

But the science has shifted. In recent years, there has been a growing consensus among experts that the neurological symptoms once viewed as conclusive evidence of abuse may well have natural causes, and that old brain injuries can re-bleed upon little or no impact.

In short, current science raises significant questions about the guilt of many caregivers convicted of shaking babies.

Reflecting real movement in the direction of doubt, this past spring, a federal judge in Chicago issued a ruling of “actual innocence” in the case of Jennifer Del Prete, a caregiver accused of shaking a baby in her care. (My book describes this trial in detail.) Del Prete was able to show that, based on what doctors now know about alternative causes of the triad, no reasonable jury could possibly find Del Prete guilty of murder. Indeed, according to the reviewing judge, a lack of evidentiary support for the theory of Shaken Baby Syndrome means that the diagnosis is arguably “more an article of faith than a proposition of science.”

Our legal system has been slow to absorb this new reality. As a consequence, innocent parents and caregivers remain incarcerated and, perhaps more inexplicably, prosecutions based solely on the “triad” symptoms continue even to this day. The cautionary tale of Shaken Baby Syndrome shows that our system is too inclined to stay the course, and awful injustices can result.

Shaken Baby Syndrome | Craig Smith

Shaken BabyThe term “shaken baby syndrome” (SBS) was developed to explain those instances in which severe intracranial trauma occurred in the absence of signs of external head trauma. SBS is the severe intentional application of violent force (shaking) in one or more episodes, resulting in intracranial injuries to the child. Physical abuse of children by shaking usually is not an isolated event. Many shaken infants show evidence of previous trauma.

Frequently, the shaking has been preceded by other types of abuse.

Mechanism of Injury

The mechanism of injury in SBS is thought to result from a combination of physical factors, including the proportionately large cranial size of infants, the laxity of their neck muscles, and the vulnerability of their intracranial bridging veins, which is due to the fact that the subarachnoid space (the space between the arachnoid membrane and the pia mater, which are the inner two of the three membranes that cover the brain) are somewhat larger in infants. However, the primary factor is the proportionately large size of the adult relative to the child. Shaking by admitted assailants has produced remarkably similar injury patterns:

  • The infant is held by the chest, facing the assailant, and is shaken violently back and forth.
  • The shaking causes the infant’s head to whip forward and backward from the chest to the back.
  • The infant’s chest is compressed, and the arms and legs move about with a whiplash action.
  • At the completion of the assault, the infant may be limp and either not breathing or breathing shallowly.
  • During the assault, the infant’s head may strike a solid object.
  • After the shaking, the infant may be dropped, thrown, or slammed onto a solid surface.
  • The last two events likely explain the many cases of blunt injury, including skull fractures, found in shaken infants. However, although blunt injury may be seen at autopsy in shaken infants, research data suggest that shaking in and of itself is often sufficient to cause serious intracranial injury or death.

Read Complete Article Here 

 

National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome


Craig Smith 200x200

Craig’s Philosophy

www.cbsmith.ca

craig@cbsmith.ca

Prevention, education, treatment and the provision of ongoing services for victims and their families are all essential elements in dealing with child maltreatment. In addition, professionals involved with child abuse know that a proper investigation is critical. As a police officer involved for many years in child abuse cases, my job was to conduct thorough, professional, investigations that elicited all available details, with a minimum of trauma to the child victims. The intent of my training is to provide professionals with the necessary skills to carry out an effective yet compassionate, child abuse investigation.

I provide courtesy consultations to anyone who has taken my training. More in depth case consultations and opinions may be provided on a per fee basis. My primary responsibility has always been to the truth and to the best interests of child victims.

 Craig B. Smith, BGS, CFCI – Qualifications

    • Twenty-seven years experience with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
    • Sixteen years experience investigating sexual offences and homicides.
  • Author of Shaken Baby Syndrome An investigator’s manual (2010)
  • Revised and co-authored An Investigative Guide for Sexual Offences, Third Edition, under contract to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (2006).
  • Co-developed Manual for the Investigation of Child Sexual Abuse and For the Kids, a manual and one hour training video on proper child sexual abuse investigation procedures as part of a training package for police and social workers. Canadian Society for the Investigation of Child Abuse, (1988).
  • Author of “Guidelines for Child Abuse Investigations”, National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome, (1999).
  • Expert consultant on Shaken Baby Syndrome with the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome (1999 – present).
  • Presenter at numerous conferences and courses including
    • 9th ISPCAN Asia Pacific Regional Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect, Delhi, India (2011)
    • 18th Annual American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC) Conference, New Orleans USA (2010)
    • 8th ISPCAN Asia Pacific Regional Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect, Perth, Australia (2009)
    • Rocky Mountain Information Network conference on Crimes Against Children, Lauglin, Nevada USA (2007)
    • 10th Annual Homicide School, Nevada, USA (2006).
    • 9th Annual Symposium on Child Trauma, St. Louis, USA (2006).
    • Joining Together: Conducting Forensic Investigations on Behalf of the Young Abused Child, Calgary, Canada (2006).
    • 14th Annual Western States Sexual Assault/Abuse Seminar, Las Vegas, USA (2005).
    • Missouri Police Juvenile Officer’s Association, Annual Conference and Training Institute, Missouri, USA (2004, 2005).
    • International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (ISPCAN), Brisbane, Australia (2004), Denver, USA (2002).
    • North American Conference on Shaken Baby Syndrome, Montreal, Canada (2004).
    • Third and Fourth National Conference on Shaken Baby Syndrome, Salt Lake City, USA, (2002, 2000).
    • Keynote speaker at the Symposium 2002 Teddy Bears and Flashlights: Reducing the Complexities for Children & Families, St. John’s, Canada (2002).
    • Australian National Conference on Shaken Baby Syndrome, Sydney, Australia (2001).
    • Keynote speaker at the Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect (SCAN) Conference in Toronto, Canada (2001).
    • First and Second Canadian Conferences on Shaken Baby Syndrome, Saskatoon, Canada (2001, 1999).
  • Training Sessions provided throughout Canada, United States, Australia, India, Singapore and the Phillipines to police officers, social workers, prosecutors, victim services, school and medical personnel on Child Sexual Abuse, Shaken Baby Syndrome, Interviews and Interrogations, Adult Sexual Assault Investigations.