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Shaken Baby Syndrome

Baby laying in a blanket and looking at the camera

The phrase Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) was coined in the 1970’s to explain instances in which minor children were discovered with symptoms of lethargy, irritability, and the failure to thrive. Police Officers were finding children who were “sick” and the explanations being given were less than compelling regarding the genesis of the condition. The explanation that gave rise to SBS was that a care giver had become frustrated with the victim’s crying and the child was picked up and shaken so violently that the brain inside the skull moved forcefully causing “traumatic” shearing which causes Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). The upshot of the TBI is cognitive injury or even death that can be experienced by the alleged victim of a shaken baby episode.



How Are Charges Determined?

As a rule there are no witnesses to the “shaken baby” incident. Many times, charges are determined by the police doing an assessment of who was last with the child. Confessions have been extracted from the defendant based upon a concerted effort to elicit such explanation. Though it would seem unusual, there have been many confessions coerced resulting in innocent defendants giving lengthy descriptions of events that never occurred because the police question defendants in such a manner as to convince the defendant that he did something that he in no way did. Never forget police can lie during an interview with no adverse consequence.


What Should You Do During an Investigation?

When the police, CPS or the prosecuting attorney show up at your house to conduct an investigation, it is awful difficult to remain calm while the police are telling you they will take your kids if you do not cooperate fully i.e. “answer any questions they may have”. The fact of the matter is that many times the investigating agency has already reached a conclusion as to what they believe occurred. Once the agency has reached a conclusion in their mind, the phenomenon of “confirmation bias” sets in and the chances of them changing their mind evaporates. If you are the suspect, talking is not in your best interest. Instinctively, one feels that if I just had the time I could explain everything and you would realize just how foolish this is! Wrong!! They will never see it that way so the best thing you can do is hire a lawyer and let he or she do the talking for you.

In those instances in which the victim dies an autopsy will be preformed. One of the smartest moves a suspect can do is to hire a pathologist who has been involved in a “shaken baby” case before. In that same manner, the attorney so hired should be experienced. One of the most important pieces of information that the investigating agency will produce is the “time line” accounting for the victim’s whereabouts during the period of time in which it is alleged the injury occurred.


How is Shaken Baby Syndrome Identified?

In many “shaken baby” cases there are no outward signs of trauma. The alleged mechanism of injury is the traumatic “shearing” of the brain against the skull during the shaking. The pure shanking theory has been disputed by scientific articles establishing the inability to effectuate that form of trauma to a baby’s brain by shaking alone. Subsequently, new diagnoses have arisen. Shaking Impact Syndrome (SIS) is a theory that accounts for the needed force arising by hitting the baby’s head on a solid form of resistance. In those situations, enough energy can be generated to cause trauma to the brain, but the trauma will be evidenced by outside injury visible in the form of bruising.

Injuries to the brain can be caused by ischemic oxygen deprivation and actual blunt force trauma to the brain. There is a method through which injury to the brain (i.e. blunt force trauma/ischemic) can be discerned. Remembering that ischemic injury can be caused by both blunt force trauma or bacteria induced oxygen depravation. It becomes important to make that determination.

There may be valid explanations for a suspect but only his attorney should be talking to the investigating agency. Shaken Baby Syndrome is a medical/legal case. The consequences of a conviction are devastating. You need a medical expert and a legal expert. Consult with them at your earliest convenience. Every year innocent people are sent to prison for extended periods of time. If you are charged, do not be so naïve as to believe you have nothing to worry about “because you are innocent”…That is when you have the most to worry about…The prisons are full of innocent people.