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Scientists Call Forensics Over Baby-Shaking Prosecutions 

Baby-shaking prosecutions involve parents or guardians who shake their babies to get them to stop crying, usually, in a fit of rage. In one case, an Australian man was convicted when two forensic experts testified that baby-shaking was the likely cause of the child’s homicide. The man was imprisoned for nine years.

The controversy surrounds a “triad” of injuries that appear to indicate a baby-shaking homicide. These include bleeding of the brain, retinal hemorrhage, and swelling of the brain. In many cases, there are no external injuries to the baby at all. The belief that “triad-only” symptomology is at a 1:1 correspondence to baby shaking is now at the center of a hot controversy between prosecutors and scientists. Some forensic experts say that the triad automatically indicates shaking or abuse, while others are not so sure. The latter’s argument is gaining traction due to a recent article contesting the science behind such prosecutions.

The article specifically called out the two expert witnesses who testified in the baby-shaking case mentioned above. The scientist concluded that there was no finding of fact that implicated the defendant in that lawsuit to baby shaking, and the theory behind such prosecutions was based on studies conducted in cases where individuals allegedly confessed to the crimes. By comparing confessions to abuse, the experts were able to (by analogy) claim that the defendant was guilty of baby-shaking.

The Article is Removed

Eight months after its publication, the article was removed “for legal reasons.” When asked about the article, no one appeared willing to discuss the matter. However, it later became known that the two forensic scientists who testified on behalf of the prosecution issued legal threats to the journal. Those who defended forensic science called the article “garbage,” “nonsense,” and expressed bewilderment over how such a respected scientific journal could publish such a bogus report. 

At this point, the police department got involved. They began digging into the article writer’s background even using legal databases that are meant only for criminal prosecutions, which is against Australian law. The police assumed that the article writer had a personal stake in the case, either from having shaken a baby to death himself and/or having a family member who did the same. None, of course, was found.

The forensic scientists then issued a response to the original article with a demand that no response from the article writer be published. Neither request was granted. The duo then attempted to use legal pressure to force the journal to issue an apology. After the article was retracted, the duo then expressed mystification over why the article was retracted or what legal reasons could have led to the retraction. Nonetheless, threats of “legal remedies” pervade the duo’s emails to the publication. 

Why was this such a big deal? Well, the forensic scientists were concerned that the paper, once published in the journal, would make its way into courtrooms harming baby-shaking prosecutions. The intersection between science and forensics has a nasty habit of causing these types of legal issues.

Talk to a Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney

Sometimes, forensics are wrong, the science is bad, the methods are bad, or not everyone agrees with the findings. David Freidberg has helped several criminal defendants overcome bad forensics and show their innocence. Call today at  (312) 560-7100 to discuss your situation and allow us to begin building your defense immediately.

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