News 02.02.11

NY Times Magazine: Questions Surround Shaken-Baby Cases

Approximately 200 Americans are charged each year with causing the death of infants by shaking them, but new medical research suggests that many of these deaths could be accidental.

A feature story in the New York Times Magazine this weekend

explores emerging science of tragic shaken baby deaths and asks if these cases could be rife with wrongful accusations and convictions.

Emily Bazelon writes in the Times story:

A dozen years ago, the medical profession held that if the triad of subdural and retinal bleeding and brain swelling was present without a fracture or bruise that would indicate, for example, that a baby had accidently fallen, abuse must have occurred through shaking.

In the past decade, that consensus has begun to come undone. In 2008, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, after reviewing a shaken-baby case, wrote that there is “fierce disagreement” among doctors about the shaken-baby diagnosis, signaling “a shift in mainstream medical opinion.” In the same year, at the urging of the province’s chief forensic pathologist, the Ontario government began a review of 142 shaken-baby cases, because of “the scientific uncertainty that has come to characterize that diagnosis.”

“No one wants child abuse,” Keith Findley, the director of the Wisconsin Innocence Project and the Innocence Network Board Chairman told Bazelon. “But we should not be prosecuting and convicting people in shaken-baby cases right now, based on the triad of symptoms, without other evidence of abuse. If the medical community can’t agree about all the conflicting data and research, how is a jury supposed to reach a conclusion that’s beyond a reasonable doubt?”



Read the full Times story online

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