Shaken Baby Murder Cases
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Hundreds of people are convicted of shaking babies to death every year. Without variation, the State's case is based upon the presence of three medical findings that, according to the State's medical experts, are diagnostic of shaken baby syndrome. The State's medical experts will testify that retinal bleeding, subdural bleeding, and brain swelling are proof that the child was shaken.
In each of these cases, the State will use medical testimony to establish:
- that the child was shaken,
- that the person charged is the person who shook the child, and
- because of the amount of force used, the person should have reasonably expected physical or mental injury to the child (intent).
Understanding the Trial Process
Unlike any other type of charge, the State uses medical experts to establish that a crime has been committed, who committed the crime, and the intent of the person who committed the crime. The State will argue that the three symptoms can only be caused by the rotational forces associated from shaking, that a significant amount of force is needed to generate these rotational forces in the child's brain, and that the child would have lost consciousness or become noticeably symptomatic immediately. If you are the one caring for the child when these symptoms are first noticed, then according to the State's theory - you are the one who shook the child and you will be charged with murder.
In Florida, a person will be charged with Felony Murder when a child dies as a result of shaking. No intent to kill the child is required. All the State is required to prove is that the child was intentionally shaken. If convicted, Felony Murder is punishable by a mandatory life sentence. Life is the only sentence the Court can lawfully impose. A life sentence is just that - life with no parole or early release.
There is Hope in Shaken Baby Cases
The science, or the lack thereof, that experts have used to support the shaken baby theory has come under serious attack since the late 1990's. Many of the leading experts in the country no longer believe that shaking alone can cause the symptoms that have historically been the foundation SBS. Experts that once testified that shaking alone causes these injuries have changed their testimony in recent years to include an additional element of blunt head trauma. However, in many alleged SBS cases, there is no external evidence whatsoever of blunt head trauma. In other words, the child was hit in the head so hard that it caused the brain to bleed and swell and yet no mark or injury of any type can be found on the outside of the head. This is very difficult for a jury understand. State experts can only guess that the child's head struck something soft and the forces generated magically transferred to the brain.
Additionally, other causes for the classic SBS symptoms have also been recognized by the experts. Short distance falls have been proven to cause the very same trilogy of symptoms as SBS. Other causes such as metabolic disorders, surgical interventions, congenital malformations, hematological diseases, infectious diseases, autoimmune conditions, rebleeds and hypoxia can also cause the classic SBS symptoms.
The Lucid Interval
Historically, the State experts have proven the identity of the perpetrator by who was caring for the child at the time the child no longer appeared normal. The leading scientists in this county, and around the word, have now determined that some children who have the classic SBS symptoms experience a "lucid interval." Experts can now site specific cases where children were observed by medical personnel to appear perfectly fine, and then after a period of hours, deteriorate and become unconscious and die. These new medical findings have undermined the scientific foundations of the classic SBS prosecution. If you don't know how or when the child was injured, you certainly cannot scientifically prove the classic SBS case.
Enlist Experienced Defense in Tampa
Our Tampa criminal defense lawyer at The Law Office of Timothy Hessinger has extensive experience handling alleged shaken baby cases. Tim Hessinger's experience started in 1997 when he was in the Major Crime Unit at The State Attorney's Office. Tim Hessinger was responsible for the prosecution of all of the child murder cases in the County over an eight year period. Tim became familiar with the experts that the State relies on for SBS court testimony. Since leaving the State, Attorney Hessinger has continued to handle Shaken Baby cases. Our firm has established relationships with the leading experts in the country on SBS cases. We have also created a large library of literature containing all of the latest and historical research relevant to SBS. In any case of child murder you will need the help of highly skilled and experienced attorney.
Contact a Tampa criminal lawyer from our firm for a meeting to discuss the facts of your case and to formulate a strategy for your defense.