Shaken Baby Syndrome Defense
Shaken baby prosecutions are one of the most difficult cases a criminal lawyer defends. An attorney has a lot of biases to overcome. First, the very idea of someone shaking a baby so hard that injuries occur is hard to get past emotionally for anybody. In dealing with an outraged public, which very often includes judges and prosecutors, as well as potential jurors, a thoughtful defense attorney has to be prepared to muster a strong defense. Often a defendant’s own background lends insight into what took place, and can be used to negotiate a resolution.
But, if the client is innocent, what then? One issue is that medical evidence and findings are a moving target. This is often a good situation for the defense. Newer and different medical tests now available have shown that injuries of the type once considered only purposefully committed, may have, indeed, been accidentally caused. Experts who used to testify that a baby’s injuries were certainly caused by purposeful shaking would not now testify to that. In other words, the latest medical and forensic literature may now show that such injuries could well have been accidentally caused.
The prosecution tends to use the same doctors to testify repeatedly. In San Diego, a group of doctors from Children’s Hospital are often used. Some testify differently today than they did years ago. This may be useful to the defense to show we are dealing with a moving target, an argument juries should hear. The latest findings suggest there are a group if issues that may be used collectively which tend to show the purposefulness of the defendant’s actions, including a history of injuries for the child, or other children in the defendant’s care, the possible mechanisms of injury that explain the baby’s condition, IE, is there another plausible explanation for the injuries, and other injuries additional to the one that brought the baby to the authorities attention.
If one is accused or questioned by medical personnel regarding how a child’s injuries happened, if they are asked to reenact the moment of injury, most attorneys will tell the accused to remain silent until they have a lawyer to assist them. Often these kinds of questions are asked by medical doctors acting as investigators to determine whether the person should be charged with child abuse. Doctors are “mandatory reporters” under California law if they believe there is a possibility of abuse. One needs to understand the right to remain silent until one speaks with a lawyer is a vitally important one in this situation.