Thousands of people have been sent to prison and lost their children due to diagnoses of Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) or Abusive Head Trauma (AHT). As science has revealed the lack of evidence for SBS, courts across the country have begun to reverse convictions.
SBS diagnoses began in the 1970s based on the hypothesis that violent shaking could cause intracranial findings referred to as the “triad.” The hypothesis turned into widespread medical dogma that whenever the triad was present, the child must have been violently shaken. For decades, doctors testified that violent shaking or abusive impact was the only possible explanation for the triad absent a motor vehicle accident or multi-story fall. Today, doctors and scientists agree that the SBS diagnosis is based entirely on circular reasoning, that accidental household falls can result in the triad, and that an ever-increasing list of medical conditions result in the same triad findings.
Today, there is widespread agreement in the scientific community that the foundations upon which SBS convictions have been based were wrong and that the evidence basis for the diagnosis is unreliable. Yet there has been no systematic attempt to correct wrongful convictions based on expert testimony that we now know was false. Further, the same faulty medical testimony continues to be the basis for criminal prosecutions and convictions, as well as the separation of families.
On March 8, 2019, NCIP hosted a training for lawyers on SBS and AHT led by pediatric forensic psychologist Evan Matshes and attorney Randy Papetti. The presenters discussed the medical literature and lack of evidence for SBS diagnoses and covered legal strategy to help lawyers with cross-examination of medical experts. NCIP held the training in Santa Clara Law’s Panelli Court Room, which was well-attended by public defenders, private defense counsel attorneys, appellate attorneys, post-conviction attorneys, and innocence organization attorneys. The training was also live-streamed on the internet for innocence organizations across the country. Randy Papetti’s presentation is available for viewing below.
SBS/AHT Attorney Training Part 1
SBS/AHT Attorney Training Part 2
Randy Papetti, Paige Kaneb, and Lindsay Herf, OUTSIDE THE ECHO CHAMBER: A RESPONSE TO THE “CONSENSUS STATEMENT ON ABUSIVE HEAD TRAUMA IN INFANTS AND YOUNG CHILDREN”, 59 Santa Clara L. Rev. 299 (2019).
Statement of the Innocence Network on Shaken Baby Syndrome/Abusive Head Trauma
Northern California Innocence Project Shaken Baby Syndrome Project