WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
February 19 2024
WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
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New Jersey appeal judges reject shaken baby syndrome as ‘junk science’

New Jersey appeal judges reject shaken baby syndrome as ‘junk science’

Image from 'More Rough Justice' by Peter Hill, Martin Young and Tom Sargant, 1985

Appeal judges in New Jersey have upheld a court ruling which declared shaken baby syndrome ‘junk science’ preventing prosecutors from citing the controversial diagnosis in the cases of two fathers who challenged their child abuse indictments.

Judge Greta Gooden Brown, on behalf of a three-judge panel, argued that prosecutors must show a theory is generally accepted within the medical and scientific community (as reported in the New Jersey Monitor).

While the diagnosis was generally accepted in pediatrics, she argued, it was controversial in  biomechanics community particularly when a baby shows no physical evidence of being assaulted

There has long been concern about the reliability of the so called ‘triad’ of symptoms – brain swelling, intracranial bleeding, and bleeding in the retina – in identifying traumatic shaking – as reported on the Justice Gap (here). The decision came in the consolidated appeals of two fathers, Darryl Nieves and Michael Cifelli, who authorities accused of assaulting their children.

‘Biomechanical testing has never proven the premise of SBS/AHT, despite the hypothesis being grounded in biomechanical principles,’ Gooden Brown wrote.

Cody Mason, a managing attorney with the Office of the Public Defender, called the ruling ‘well-reasoned’. ‘The Appellate Division and the Supreme Court have shown again and again that they value scientific reliability over expediency or accepting things just because they have been accepted for a long time. This opinion is another step in that direction,’ he said.