One of the scariest moments for a parent is the accusation, upon bringing a child to a hospital, that you are a suspect in your child’s abuse. Because so much of the time spent with newborns is time away from other adults, even if you’ve never laid a hand on your child, assertion you did, based in injuries discovered by medical professionals, is hard to disprove.
In addition, to the criminal charges that may arise, a parent faces the inevitable Department of Social Services / Child Protective Services investigation that may result in an emergency application for removal of the child from the home, and can ultimately result in loss of custody.
Because child abuse experts have the same proof problem as any other law enforcement officer, they have latched onto a number of diagnoses that claim that, given a constellation of injuries, the injuries must have been the result of abuse, not accident.
The key term of art for nearly 20 years was Shaken Baby Syndrome. In the last two decades, however, child abuse experts have used other terms: intentional head trauma, intentional infliction of abuse, abusive head trauma, that are basically synonymous with the older term shaken baby syndrome.
The idea is that once a child abuse expert sees certain types of injuries, they will necessarily come to a criminal conclusion: that someone must have inflicted the injuries intentionally.
The problem is that the research doesn’t necessarily support these conclusions. The existence, for instance, of retinal hemorrhaging and subdural hematomas have been used by child abuse experts to then claim that the abuse was intentional.
Fighting a Child Abuse Charge
The further problem is that many lawyers lack a familiarity with the issues surrounding abusive head trauma and shaken baby syndrome. I recall a conversation I had with a much more senior lawyer years ago about a case involving retinal hemorrhaging and subdural hematomas. The defense lawyer bought into the prosecution’s assertion that because these things were present, the client must’ve been guilty.
I had to work hard to convince the lawyer that there was a different explanation. Lawyers have tremendous power. They can very easily persuade a client that there is no help, and no alternative explanation. It takes a special lawyer, and a special client, to pursue a not guilty outcome given that the odds are stacked against them.