Over the last two decades, the phrase “shaken baby syndrome” has entered the modern medical lexicon as a way of describing head injuries sustained by an infant, presumably as the result of physical abuse. Allegations of abuse are usually focused on the child’s parents or caregivers, and, in most cases, it would seem that the symptoms could not possibly have been the result of anything else. A growing number of medical professionals, however, including one whose testimony provided the cornerstone of a landmark shaken baby trial in 1997 are beginning to question the assumption that all such symptoms are the result of criminal abuse.
Abusive Head Trauma
While shaken baby syndrome has been a recognized diagnosis for a number of years, its colloquial-sounding name has been replaced by many professionals with the more clinical “abusive head trauma.” Its symptoms are usually threefold: swelling of the brain, bleeding on the surface of the brain, and bleeding behind the eyes. Known as the triad, these symptoms alone have been accepted as evidence of criminal abuse or violence, despite the lack of accompanying bruises, contusions, or broken bones.
There is no denying, of course, that some children are, in fact, tragically abused, but it is possible, skeptics now say, that other factors may contribute to or even cause the symptomatic triad. Although nearly impossible to test—researchers cannot exactly go shaking babies for science—there is increasing concern that the triad could the result of systemic infections, accidental injuries and falls, or even in-utero strokes.
Significant Change of Heart
In 1997, the Massachusetts trial of an 18-year-old au pair brought national attention to shaken baby syndrome for the first time. The young woman was found guilty of second-degree murder of an 8-month-old boy when the jury was convinced that the triad of symptoms boy exhibited could not have been caused any other way. The trial judge quickly reduced the conviction to involuntary manslaughter, much to the outrage of many around the country. One of the prosecution’s key witnesses in that trial was Dr. Patrick Barnes, then a neuroradiologist at Boston’s Children’s Hospital. “I was adamant that it had to be child abuse,” he said, “shaken baby syndrome.”
Dr. Barnes is no longer quite so convinced. He believes that medical professionals too quickly conclude that criminal activity is the only possible source of such injuries, and while protecting children is society’s duty, families also need protections. “There is no doubt that errors have been made and injustices have resulted,” Barnes said. If he could testify again, he insisted that he would clarify that the medical findings do not confirm any type of abuse and that the child’s injuries “could have been accidental.”
Seek Tenacious Legal Counsel
If you or someone you love has been charged with the abuse of a child based on the diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome, contact an experienced Hartford criminal defense attorney immediately. At the Woolf Law Firm, LLC, we understand how devastating criminal charges can be, especially when a child is involved. We will fight to protect your rights and secure your future, no matter how dire the situation may seem. Call [[phone1]] to schedule an introductory consultation today.