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S.O.S. for S.B.S.? Not quite...

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 2007
2 pages
The article presents cases which demonstrate the “persistent popularity” of Shaken Baby Syndrome claims in spite of alleged scientific doubt.
Despite international controversy over the Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) diagnosis, recent cases illustrate that American courts are still willing to admit evidence of SBS through expert testimony and demonstrative exhibits. Medical professionals and legal scholars frustrated with the high numbers of SBS-related cases in American appellate courts, increasing from about 50 in 2000 to over 80 in 2006 have proposed solutions including interagency review of suspected abuse cases, improved training for pathologists, and heightened judicial scrutiny of “expert” evidence. SBS occurs when a violent, shaking force causes an infant's head to rapidly accelerate and decelerate backwards and forwards in a whiplash motion. However, recent research suggests that the three indicia associated with SBS may also be unintentionally generated by a short-distance fall, apnea, or vaccine reaction. Such claims cast doubt upon the certainty of SBS diagnoses, especially when based solely on identification of the triad of intracranial injuries. Three characteristics of SBS make it particularly appealing to prosecutors. First, the shaking motion generally does not result in external wounds. Thus SBS can be alleged even if there is no sign of other injuries such as bruising, abrasions, or lacerations. Second, some have linked shaking behavior to normally loving adults that have simply "snapped" under the stress of parenting. This means that SBS can be proposed even if there is no history of prior abuse. Third, this syndrome involves scientific evidence, and fact finders may perceive such evidence as infallible. Therefore jurors and judges may too readily accept a suggestion of SBS without sufficiently considering the validity of the underlying medical principles. References

Date Published: January 1, 2007