Note – Bridging the Gap: An Application of Social Frameworks Evidence to Shaken Baby Syndrome

Lauren Quint

Volume 62, Issue 6, 1839-1870

Ever since the syndrome was first recognized in the 1960s, a diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome (“SBS”) was believed to be pathognomonic of abuse. New data calls into question the accuracy of the diagnosis and its association with nonaccidental death. This data points to alternative causes of brain injuries in infants and small children and casts doubt on the validity of evidence frequently used at trial. This Note explores problems associated with expert testimony in the context of SBS. It argues that despite the ability to accurately present general causation evidence at trial, introduction of specific causation testimony is often premature and unsupported by existing scientific proof. A careful application of John Monahan and Laurens Walker’s social frameworks theory provides the groundwork for new evidentiary techniques in the defense and prosecution of SBS. By limiting expert testimony to that of social frameworks, courts can encourage thorough exploration of pertinent scientific and corroborating evidence, while simultaneously preventing inappropriate specific causation testimony. Finally, this Note compares SBS to other crimes, such as rape and arson, because applying lessons learned from the use of social frameworks evidence in other litigation contexts can help lawyers more accurately and equitably try SBS cases.

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