A recent criminal suit filed against a babysitter has an old controversy back in the forefront. The babysitter is being charged with several felonies related to the death of an infant under her care. The defense had moved to exclude evidence produced by a Chicago physician who would testify that the baby died of trauma related to being shaken.
To make that determination, the doctor uses evidence provided from studies that tell forensic doctors to look for key hallmarks of shaken baby syndrome. The research has come under fire recently sparking a dispute between scientists.
According to the California Innocence Project, shaken baby syndrome has never been conclusively proven. The notion remains a hypothesis yet is used to convict parents using forensic doctors all the time. These doctors will testify that brain trauma is almost certain the result of the baby being shaken. While the defense can contest this hypothesis, it does not always stop a conviction.
In a recent case, a defendant who was accused of killing the child in her care moved to strike evidence related to shaken baby syndrome. However, the judge in the case has denied that request, so the jury will hear forensic evidence that the baby was shaken to death.
Understanding the Science
Science does not operate on consensus, belief, or anything else. Hypotheses are only hypotheses until they can be proven. Nonetheless, the defense experts will testify that there is a 50/50 split between experts on the science behind shaken baby syndrome. The defense believes the child died after sustaining an injury to her forehead days earlier. There was bruising on the baby’s forehead at the time of the death. When the baby began to show signs of distress, the babysitter called an ambulance and alerted the parents. Essentially, all the police have is the fact that the babysitter was with the child at the time the baby went into medical distress and a pediatrician is willing to testify the baby was shaken to death.
Is There Enough to Convict?
Not really, but that does not mean that the prosecution will not secure a conviction in this case. It depends heavily on the defense and their ability to convince a jury that the defense’s explanation for what happened is impossible to disprove. At this point, a jury may wonder why a bruised head can result in a death a week later, but the prosecution has no evidence that the baby was shaken other than the fact a pediatrician is willing to testify that she was.
When it comes to forensics, juries are much less likely to convict than you think. They expect forensic scientists to be like the ones on TV, but in reality, they are making educated guesses and their peers do not agree with them. That is not enough to convict.
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