What if a Parent Confesses to Shaking a Baby? - Part One
Defending a Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) case in Michigan courts can be extremely difficult. In fact, this is a true statement anywhere in the USA or in the rest of the world. Defending a case where a parent has confessed to shaking can be overwhelming. Especially if the attorney is not prepared to dig deep into the realities associated with false or misunderstood confessions.
As a starting point to this conversation, we need to recognize that all of the prejudices and sympathies in the litigation equation go against the parent. This is because everyone (including me and all of my clients) want to keep babies safe, healthy and free from harm. There is an “err on the side of caution” mentality. This way of thinking subtly, and sometimes not-so-subtly, invades our legal system. It replaces the innocent until proven guilty belief that is supposed to guide our court processes.
A 2019 article by Chris Brook (published in the Australian Journal of Forensic Sciences) explores the evidentiary difficulties of relying on confessions as a basis for reaching medical conclusions. The article illustrates the problems in the foundations of current scientific thought on SBS in the medical community due to the unscientific reliance on confession cases. If you’re interested, the article can be read here.
By category, there are two problems for a parent dealing with a confession in a case involving allegations of SBS. The first is the obvious fact that a confession can be devastating when the judge or jury hears about it. A trial attorney must be prepared to explain every statement made by the client. In my practice, this involves many hours of conversations with the parents. We look closely at every medical record, police report and CPS report where statements by parents are presented. Here is what I routinely find:
- The honest statements of parents are not believed and dismissed as not possible explanations.
- Parents are repeatedly asked the same questions and minor discrepancies are treated as lies.
- Parents are questioned after long periods of little or no sleep and while in a high state of anxiety.
- Statements of parents are not accurately reported.
- Inaccurate statements in the medical record are repeated as though they were new statements by the parent.
- Police and CPS officials assume that a medical doctor’s explanations are true and scientific. During an interrogation, those medical opinions are treated as already proven facts. The parents are prodded to provide factual information that lines up with those medical opinions.
All of this requires a very skilled and experienced trial attorney working closely with the client to achieve a good result. But there is a larger problem. That problem forms the basis of the Chris Brook article. The larger problem is this: much of the “science” relied upon by the medical community is built upon the shaky foundation of confession cases. I will address that issue in part two.
If you, or someone you love, stand accused of shaking an infant, you need to get help right away. The attorneys at Cronkright Law are here for you. Contact us today.