Sunday, December 05, 2004

Andy writes:
Charges of shaken baby syndrome (SBS) are the latest rage among prosecutors. Newspapers are reporting charges or convictions at a rate of two per day nationwide. Unless a juror lost an infant due to natural causes, which prosecutors can screen for, convictions are essentially guaranteed. That's pretty rough considering that there is no real evidence that SBS (without impact) is even possible, and that analysis of the physics suggests it is impossible. One medical skeptic puts it this way: shake an egg as hard as you can and you still will not ever break the yoke.

Here are five examples of SBS prosecutions from just the past ten days:

1. Boyfriend faces 25-years to life for SBS of a girl who had fallen to a pavement days earlier.
2. Father faces 1st degree murder for SBS; denied child abuse but admitted "bouncing" baby.
3. Boyfriend charged with SBS despite lack of any external injuries.
4. Pregnant babysitter charged with SBS: "no evidence that anyone [else] caused the ... death."
5. Father sentenced to nine years for SBS that he adamantly denies.

These common themes underlie the prosecutions:

1. Mothers are very rarely tried for SBS, but fathers, boyfriends and babysitters frequently are. Prosecutors are clearly exploiting juries' prejudices.
2. Possible natural causes of death by infants are ignored. As in the fourth story below, prosecutors take the view that defendant must be guilty because no one could have done it.
3. The "confessions" to shaking are usually descriptions of an attempt to revive the infant, or merely routine jostling ("bouncing") of a baby. Sometimes the confessors speak poor English.
4. Childrens' hospitals, which rely on child abuse funding, seem more likely to allege SBS than other hospitals.

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