When there is a report to the county agency of suspected abuse, the county agency is required to refer suspected cases of abuse to the appropriate law enforcement authority. In many cases when the child lives criminal charges of assault, aggravated assault and endangering the welfare of a child are filed against the father of the child or the boyfriend of the mother. Normally a defendant will face a mandatory five year minimum jail sentence for these charges. When the baby dies, the charge is murder or manslaughter and these jail sentences can be much longer. 20 to 40 years for third degree murder. Life imprisonment and even the death penalty for first degree murder. Many attorney’s have no idea how to defend allegations of shaking and make the mistake of trying to challenge when the “shaking” allegedly took place in an attempt to raise reasonable doubt that it was the defendant who committed the “shaking”. This approach rarely, if ever, works. Judges and juries are justifiably outraged when a little child is abused and they will generally hold the defendant accountable if there is no alternative explanation for the injuries.
What most defense attorneys are not able to do is challenge the diagnosis that the injuries could only have been caused by shaking. There is significant scientific controversy surrounding the medical idea that a baby can be shaken hard enough by a human to cause a subdural hematoma at all or at least without first injuring the baby’s neck. (See symptoms for more detail.) In addition, an attorney needs to look at the underlying medical information and not simply look at the reports of the child abuse “expert” or even the reports of the radiologists. (See defensive strategy for more detail.) It has been found in many cases that alleged fractures and other injuries do not actually exist even though initial reports say the injuries are suspected or say they are actually there based on initial studies. In other cases, once the allegations of abuse are made, any meaningful search ceases for a medical or metabolic condition that could account for the subdural/retinal hemorrhage or fragile bones and non-abusive fractures. The allegation that a baby has been shaken is a defensible charge if the defense attorney knows the medical literature and about shaken baby syndrome and its controversies.
If the parent is accused of abusing their child, not only does the parent face possible criminal charges, they potentially face losing custody of their children through a dependency petition filed by the county, child support proceedings to reimburse the county for having custody of their child and a ChildLine report.