Washington Post begins Shaken Baby Syndrome series

Washington Post today launches an investigative series on dubious Shaken Baby Syndrome convictions. “In Illinois, a federal judge who recently freed a mother of two after nearly a decade in prison called Shaken Baby Syndrome ‘more an article of faith than a proposition of science.'” We’ve covered this developing story with many links in recent years.


  • Those of us involved in aspects of the law involving child abuse and neglect should always question the orthodoxy (which slowly is eroding). Very welcome piece in the Post. The science of ‘Shaken Baby Syndrome’ always has been weak. I have long ago concluded the science supporting ‘Shaken Baby’ Syndrome was junk science, but the debate ultimately has to be resolved in the scientific arena by rigorous debate and argument.

  • My niece, Amanda Brumfield, is serving a 20-year prison sentence in Florida after being convicted of a crime that never happened. She was caring for her 12-month old goddaughter who sustained an unwitnessed head injury when she climbed out of a Pack ‘n Play and fell a short distance to a carpet over concrete floor. The prosecutor and prosecutorial medical experts wove a web of confusing and blatant inaccuracies, which ultimately influenced the jury to convict. The death of a child and wrongful conviction with lengthy imprisonment are both tragic, but this case was also negatively impacted by two important links: Amanda is Billy Bob Thornton’s daughter and we believe this had a negative impact on decisions made concerning the charges against her; and, she was tried in the same court house during the same week as the Casey Anthony trial and faced the same exact charges. The Innocence Projects of Florida and Wisconsin are now representing Amanda, so maybe there is hope for her, but there are many more wrongful convictions based on the junk science associated with Shaken Baby Syndrome (and related short fall cases).

  • There is an effort to petition congress to sponsor an independent investigation into the science of shaken baby syndrome: http://tinyurl.com/innocentfamilypetition The supporting information includes many stories of innocent families affected by misdiagnoses of SBS.

  • I just want to point out the crash dummy is 22 pounds. How often are infants 22 pounds?? This is a biased, scary piece of journalism. Telling people that SBS does not cause injuries is dangerous and irresponsible. Most babies who are hurt as a result of SBS are between the ages of 3-8 months. This would generally mean much less than 22 pounds for most kids.

    It’s not that I don’t think that there are flaws. There are, there are many flaws. Innocent people shouldn’t be in jail…. duh! we should take more care with these cases absolutely, but don’t dangerously tell people that it can’t happen. It can and it does, and it kills and its inaccurate to say otherwise.

    What ever happened to integrity in journalism?

  • It can’t happen. There’s no way you can get the acceleration required by shaking. What would stop this sort of thing would be the removal of prosecutorial immunity for bad faith prosecutions. The court system is about processing paper, and the prosecutor bears no risk for incompetence or malice. The only person with a stake is the defendant, but the prosecutor could be forced to personally pay damages to the defendant for bringing an unsupported case, the prosecutor would have a stake in doing his or her job right.

    Child abuse is a crime so heinous that innocence is not a defense, and that sense is at the root of “Shaken Baby Syndrome” prosecutions. This is similar to the Satanic Ritual Abuse cases of the 1980s and 1990s – these cases were brought because the crime was so horrible that the fact that it never happened at all was no defense.

  • Can’t Happen? People admit to it readily. They make videos about how they did it. They testify they did it, and yes without police coercion. It most certainly CAN and DOES happen. 99.9% of the medical community agrees it CAN happen. Just like 99.9% of the medical community believes vaccines are a good thing. Go science.

  • […] Overlawyered, a law blog published by the Cato Institute, a public policy research organization, links to The Medill Justice Project and the Washington Post’s investigative series on shaken-baby syndrome. Read the full story here. […]

  • The question is not whether a baby can be hurt if violently shaken. That needs no proof. NEVER shake a baby! ALWAYS protect a baby’s head! When people confess without coercion, there is no reason to doubt what they say.

    The question is whether the confession of one individual can be used to prove the guilt of a different individual.

    The question is whether doctors can confidently state that based on certain invisible medical symptoms, a baby HAS been shaken violently, even when the person accused has a long history of excellent childcare, even when she refuses to plea bargain or admit to wrongdoing after conviction when it would be beneficial in obtaining parole.

    The known natural causes for the symptoms are deemed “rare” and doctors don’t always test for them before diagnosing SBS. But what is rare among the general population may not be so rare in the small subset of children with the symptoms of a disease. Once a suspicion of child abuse is raised, investigation of alternative possibilities ends. Without a correct diagnosis, there cannot be correct treatment. There may be as-yet-unknown causes for the symptoms that are not being investigated because of false confidence in the SBS diagnosis.

    Sometimes it is impossible to know what happened beyond a reasonable doubt. Should we imprison people for decades for allegedly “snapping” based primarily on expert opinion? Should unquestionably innocent children (of the accused person) be traumatized by losing a breadwinner or caretaker?

    • Ok. Let me tell you a story. (A true one). A man in Oklahoma shakes his child, but scared of the consequences doesn’t admit to it. The child is taken away by CPS and placed in foster care. He is found guilty and spends 2 months in the county jail, but because of no admission they can’t charge him to the full extent, and he is released. The mother, claiming she is unaware takes him back. She gets pregnant, they have another baby. Whether its incompetent DHS workers or what who knows, but the baby remains in their home. When this baby is 2 months old, the Father shakes her, killing her. So, because there was no admission, he didn’t go to jail and was free to kill a child? How is that fair?

      Another story. A woman in Oregon decides to take her child (little boy) away from his known family and biological father to live with her boyfriend. This man, who has a history of child abuse and other domestic violence charges never would admit to his crimes, so the best the state could do was give his previous victims orders of protection. The little gets sick one day when the mother is out, and the mothers boyfriend picks him up and throws him against the toilet, causing him to have an internal head injury, ultimately killing him. How is that fair?

      Should I keep going? Because I can.

      Furthermore, CPS/DHS doesn’t have to meet the reasonable doubt (they only have to have probable cause to remove a child…. in Indian Child Welfare cases, the burden of proof is reasonable doubt) criteria that criminal cases do, and guidelines differ from state to state, but if a child is nearly killed with no explanation, generally they are going to have probable cause to remove the child and not return.