What Is the Prosecutor’s Approach in a Case Involving Allegations of Shaken Baby Syndrome?
Interviewer: What sort of angle does the typical prosecutor try to go with in cases like this? Are they trying to prove maliciousness or are they trying to go with witnesses?
Paul Cramm: Generally, I see the prosecution pursuing a theory that the care provider was frustrated, perhaps overly tired and snapped, if you will, when the child was crying, fussing, inconsolable. I think it’s certainly more difficult to paint an average individual as a monster to your jurors. That’s a far stretch for most jurors, unless you have an extremely unusual or unique case or set of circumstances.
It’s easier for the jurors to believe that an ordinarily good person lost their temper in a moment of weakness. I think that prosecutors choose the path of least resistance. They don’t try to sell every case as abuse by a monstrous person. I think they try to get the jurors to understand how easily someone who’s a good person can lose their temper and just have a snap reaction to a situation where a child is inconsolable, crying, fussy, colicky. I think that’s the approach that a lot of them take.
Cases Involving Allegations of Shaken Baby Syndrome Are Protracted but That Allows the Defense to Incorporate Multiple Expert Testimonies
Interviewer: How long could a case like this last, potentially?
Paul Cramm: Cases like these that will involve somewhat complicated forensic testimony and expert testimony. The longer the better. You want plenty of time to consult with the right expert. You may have four different experts. Each one of whom is equally recognized and competent, but one of them may be the absolute right physician for this specific fact pattern. A different one may be the right physician for a different fact pattern or circumstance.
Oftentimes, the only way to know is to have three or more experts review the case and review the evidence. Each one provides a written summary of their analysis and their opinions before you decide which expert will ultimately testify at trial. This takes time. You don’t want to rush these expert opinions. You want time for the appropriate experts to render good, solid, well-reasoned opinions in the case.
I’ve also found that these cases are highly emotional. They attract a lot of local news attention whenever a child is injured or heaven forbid dies. There’s a lot of public backlash at the time these events happen. The more time you can put between the date of the occurrence and the date of the trial, the more time you give the community to direct its attention to other more recent newsworthy stories. This allows time to take some of the emotional heat off of the story of the events.
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