Cases & Experience

Defensive Strategy

Defending shaken baby syndrome cases

Many experienced criminal attorneys who have not handled shaken baby cases believe that all they have to do is create reasonable doubt and their client will be acquitted. Attorneys usually attempt to create reasonable doubt by cross examining the prosecution’s witnesses about the possible timing of the injury. If the injury could have occurred during a time when the accused was not with the child then the attorney argues that reasonable doubt is created. This strategy rarely, if ever, works particularly with juries. Allegations of child abuse tend to make people in general and jurors in particular very emotional. Arguments about timing of an injury will not overcome the powerful emotion people feel that someone must pay, especially when a young child dies. That someone who will pay, even if they are innocent, will almost always be the accused. Though technically the standard of proof is reasonable doubt, when it comes to allegations of child abuse juries and judges do not typically acquit defendants when presented with a possible window of time when someone other than the accused was alone with the baby. As a result, it is advisable for a defense attorney to provide a medically rational explanation of how this child sustained the injuries found by the hospital and/or pathologist. Most criminal attorneys go to local medical experts to try to find an opinion that will contradict the diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome and are not able to find any doctors who will do so. This is partly because most of those doctors have bought into the shaken baby syndrome myth and even those who have not are not willing to risk their careers by standing up to the medical status quo. As a result, not knowing of any other option, the experienced criminal attorney without experience in shaken baby cases falls back to the typically unsuccessful defense of trying to create reasonable doubt about the timing of the injury.

If you are accused of child endangerment, child abuse, assault, aggravated assault, manslaughter, or murder, or if your child has been taken away from you, you should find an attorney who will gather expert doctor witnesses who will review the medical records and provide a reasonable medical explanation for the injuries if such an explanation in fact exists. Without a reasonable medical explanation for the injuries found, the outcome of your legal proceedings will likely not be favorable for you. Your attorney should also be familiar with the fallacies of the shaken baby syndrome and its variants, such as the shaken impact syndrome, abusive head trauma, and others. Without familiarity of the fallacies of these “theories” your attorney will not be able to effectively cross examine the prosecutions expert witnesses. Often it is helpful to have an attorney well versed in shaken baby defense team up with an experienced local criminal attorney who knows the judges and prosecutors in the county.