For decades, attorneys have used shaken baby syndrome, or SBS, as proof that a caretaker murdered a child. However, the medical community’s understanding of these symptoms has evolved, calling to question the justice of many convictions.
DePaul College of Law Professor Deborah Tuerkheimer’s new book, "Flawed Convictions: 'Shaken Baby Syndrome' and the Inertia of Injustice" (Oxford University Press 2014), examines the dangerous gap between advances in science and practices in criminal law. She will discuss her findings at a book signing event on Wednesday, May 7, from 12 to 1 p.m., DePaul University’s Loop Campus, Barnes & Noble, 1 E. Jackson Blvd., Chicago.
Researchers have discovered that a diagnosis of SBS alone cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an infant was abused or that the last person with the baby was responsible for the baby's condition, Professor Tuerkheimer writes. As a former prosecutor, she is deeply concerned with holding perpetrators of abuse accountable. However, she finds that the criminal justice system has been slow to re-examine cases that used this outdated evidence to convict caretakers of homicide.
In her recent article for Slate, Professor Tuerkheimer comments on the April 2014 federal district court judge's ruling to release former childcare worker Jennifer Del Prete from prison pending her appeal. Almost a decade ago, Del Prete was convicted of shaking a child to death in a Romeoville, Illinois, daycare center. Professor Tuerkheimer focuses on Del Prete's case in her new book, and calls the recent ruling "a critical turning point" in the way the justice system is re-examining such convictions. She has followed similar cases and proposes changes to the law to avoid further injustice.