Abusive head trauma, also known as shaken baby syndrome, is a term that no parent ever wants to hear.
Usually, when a doctor utters those words, a baby is dead or dying, and a parent is going to go to jail on charges of child abuse or murder. For years, doctors were quick to diagnose a baby with shaken baby syndrome, but now the evidence may be too inconclusive to tell for sure.
Signs of Shaken Baby Syndrome
Shaken baby syndrome describes injuries to a baby’s brain that supposedly occurs when the baby is shaken violently in a fit of frustration by the baby’s caretaker. According to the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome, head trauma does not always exhibit external signs of injuries such as difficulty breathing, seizure, or facial or scalp injury.
To diagnose shaken baby syndrome, doctors look for brain swelling, retinal hemorrhage (bleeding in the eyes), subdural hematoma (bleeding in the brain), damage to the spinal cord, or broken ribs. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, nearly 20 to 25 percent of victims of shaken baby syndrome die from their injuries.
Critics of shaken baby syndrome claim that the science behind the syndrome and its diagnosis is questionable and deficient. Many defense experts contend that doctors are too eager to diagnose an injury as shaken baby syndrome and should consider alternative explanations.
Defenses to Shaken Baby Syndrome
If you’ve been accused of shaken baby syndrome, here are some possible defenses to consider:
- Accidents could cause the same symptoms. Previously, doctors believed that injuries caused by shaken baby syndrome must be caused by deliberate forceful shaking. However, some experts contend that similar effects could be caused during accidental falls.
- Symptoms of trauma may not exhibit immediately. Currently, the assumption is that shaking a baby causes symptoms to appear immediately, so the last person to hold or care for the baby likely caused the injuries. However, some experts believe that trauma suffered as far back as birth could cause symptoms later on. So, it’s actually harder than originally believed to pinpoint what or who exactly caused a baby’s injuries.
- There are alternative explanations. In one case of shaken baby syndrome, an expert testified that a baby’s brain injuries were more likely caused by an infection that caused blood clots in the brains and strokes rather than shaking.
If you’ve been charged with murder due to shaken baby syndrome, and believe that your child may have been misdiagnosed, consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney for help.
- Browse Criminal Defense Lawyers by Location (FindLaw’s Lawyer Directory)
- Science questioned in shaken-baby conviction (USA Today)
- Ninth Circuit Ordered to Reinstate Verdict in Shaken Baby Case (FindLaw’s U.S. Ninth Circuit)
- Gov. Brown Commutes Grandmother’s Sentence in Shaken Baby Case (FindLaw’s California Case Law)