Flawed Convictions: Breaking Academic Ground

Flawed ConvictionsThe next phase of the shaken baby debate is coming right up:  Next month professor Deborah Tuerkheimer at the DePaul University College of Law is publishing a book through Oxford University Press, USA, that will reject decades of courtroom outcomes in these cases. Flawed Convictions: “Shaken Baby Syndrome” and the Inertia of Injustice promises not only to explain how a flawed theory has become entrenched in the courtroom but also to propose a way out of the morass we are in now.

Prof. Tuerkheimer, once a New York child abuse prosecutor, was already aware of the triad and its role in the courtroom in 2008 when she heard about the successful appeal of the Audrey Edmunds conviction. She studied both the legal arguments and the medical references, and concluded that the Edmunds court was correct: Medical consensus regarding shaken baby syndrome had dissipated since the 1997 trial. As Tuerkheimer explains in the book’s introduction, now available on line:

“The criminal justice implications were staggering. The mainstream medical rethinking recognized by the court could not undermine this one conviction without undermining the convictions of others whose cases also depended on the triad.”

Her first expectation, she writes, was that the Edmunds decision would trigger “a massive institutional effort to correct error.” What she encountered, however, was a system not only poorly equipped to vet medical testimony but also averse to changing course:

“Throughout the process—from prosecutorial decisions, to evidentiary rulings, to judicial review—we see a drive to push forward rather than revisit. A diagnosis of SBS sets in motion systemic confirmation, first in the clinical realm, and then the legal. The course of injustice is almost immovable.”

Prof. Deborah Tuerkheimer

Prof. Deborah Tuerkheimer

Still, Tuerkheimer insists that the course can be changed, and the last chapter of the book will offer her prescription for achieving that goal. I’m hoping she suggests a systematic review of past shaking convictions, as an alternative to the current practice of appealing them one by one.

My favorite line in the promotional blurbs is in the Amazon description, which explains that doctors are no longer sure that the triad can be caused only by abuse, or that the last adult with the child is necessarily guilty, but notes that the legal system has failed to adapt to the change:

As a result, innocent parents and caregivers remain incarcerated and, perhaps more perplexingly, triad-only prosecutions continue even to this day.

You can read a quick summary of Tuerkheimer’s conclusions in her 2010 New York Times op ed piece. She has published two law journal articles on the subject, one explaining her position and calling for change, and a second a few years later, expressing her impatience with the lack of progress.

Her observation on the current situation:

Today, an acceptance of triad-based prosecutions that once was complete has dissolved—alas, to be supplanted by a distibution of justice that is halting and unequal, with disadvantage breaking along familiar lines.

Surely its distinguished author and pedigreed publisher will give Flawed Convictions credibility. I look forward to reading Tuerkheimer’s prescription for change, and I hope her book reaches readers on both sides of the debate.

If you click on the image of the book on the Amazon page, you can read quite a bit of the book itself.

If you are not familiar with the debate surrounding shaken baby syndrome, please see the home page of this site.

copyright 2014, Sue Luttner


Filed under abusive head trauma, AHT, SBS, shaken baby syndrome, Uncategorized

17 responses to “Flawed Convictions: Breaking Academic Ground

  1. Pingback: The Forensic Unreliability of the Shaken Baby Syndrome: The Book | On Shaken Baby

  2. Dana C. Shelor

    My son has been incarserated for six years for child abuse and he has papers that says he didn’t do what they said. He’s trying to get a lawyer but he hasn’t been able to find one. The innocence project was supposed to help him but they said they couldn’t because he had taken an Alford plea and they couldn’t.

    • I am so sorry to hear of another incarceration. Please let your son know there is a community of people who understands how these injustices happen. Thank you for posting. I will send you an email about the on-line support group.

  3. Hi, I know many families are financially drained due to SBS cases. Just want to drop a note that you can request your local public library to purchase the “Flawed Convictions” book by Deborah Tuerkheimer. This is especially critical in a number of “SBS Hot Spot” prosecution counties in the US. Many families, babysitters and Child Care Centers don’t know they have the great need to read this book until something terrible happens to a child under their care. Talk to your local librarian about it, and also ask them about Inter-Library loan on books. Go to WorldCat website, it is a listing of library catalogue around the world. The “Flawed Convictions” book is available in a number of Law School libraries around the country, some are opened to Inter-Library loan on books.

    • Great point. Thank you. A friend of mine submitted a request at our local library and was told it was not of general enough interests, but I think if a few people in an area requested it they would act.

    • Thank you. I already have her book and is definitely an eye-opener for all people; especially parents and sitters. Unfortunately, I know someone who was accused of SBS. However, ignorant to the Justice System, he was trapped by his attorney into entering a plea (in less than 10 minutes) for lack of resources and no explanations of rights; only conditions if he didn’t take a plea. Counsel call his mother to tell her that the State Attorney had reached a resolution, had amended the indictment to a lesser charge, but he would have to take a plea. His mother told counsel that her son had just called and was talking to his sister. Counsel told his mother to tell her son what he had just told her and also to tell him that his chances for an appeal were <20% and if granted, if granted he would have to wait many years in prison waiting for the appeal, the appeal would be no better than the State's offer, that if he didn't take the plea – the State would take back the offer and reinstate the original indictment. He finally, decided to take the plea. All together, it took less than 10 minutes (<5 mins. on the phone with his mother and <5 minutes while in court waiting for the sentencing hearing to start) and he told counsel that he did not want to plea but counsel approached his family and told them that if def. did not take the plea (only gave conditions) and did not explain either to def. or his mother that he would lose his rights to appeal, rights to introduce new evidence and had to admit to hurting the baby. The Court did not know that def. was only allowed less than 10 minutes total to agree to accept the plea. The law states that a defendant is entitled to 24 hours to decide to take a plea or not.

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  5. Pingback: Pinocchio Law Keeps Jeffrey Havard on Death Row Despite His Innocence | SPOTTED COUCH

  6. Thank you Sue for notifying everyone in advance about her book. Excellent links on your post to additional materials and information. Do you get an advance copy of Turkheimer’s book to write a review of her work? Hope the major newspapers such as New York Times, Washington Post, or LA Times publish book review of her new book to gain wider audience to the SBS travesty.

    • I didn’t get an advance copy myself, but I’m sure her publisher sent them to the metropolitan newspapers that have covered the shaking controversy. It really is a very exciting development in the arena. Here’s to lots of readership.

      • It has been almost 6 long years. My son was accused of SBS first but since they could not prove it, the court changed it 1st Degree, was convicted to life. After conviction, he was forced to take a plea with an explanation. The SAO lowered the charges to 2nd Degree and Aggravated Child Abuse. The baby had been sick (vomiting, fever, cold, was given the baby shots, and very weak) for 1 1/2 weeks and had older blood clots from constantly falling. The child was his grandmother, the mother picked him up at 4:00 – 4:30 in the morning. The grandmother stated that the last time he vomited was at 2:30am but that he was fine when the mother picked him up. Both the mother and the grandmother never mentioned to the doctors or detectives that the child had been so sick for such a long time. My son was with the baby no more than 15 minutes, however he was blamed. The prosecutor did not know that the child was sick and was very disturbed when he found out during the Grand Jury. He exited the Grand Jury’s room angry and asked the grandmother and mother why wasn’t he told that the baby was sick. My son felt sorry for the baby’s mother as well as the baby, because she constantly complained to him that she and the baby did not have a comfortable place to sleep (they both lived with her mother). My son asked her to move in with so that she and the baby could have a comfortable place to live in. The baby and my son became very attached; he taught him how to eat table food, the baby would chew his food and place it in my son’s mouth and my son chew it and swallow it. They both adored each other and there is no way he would have hurt the baby or anyone else. My son has always been the type who has taken care of his nephews, his nieces, his friend’s daughter, etc. when he was not in school. The attorney did not want any help from experienced attorneys and this was his first SBS case. The state hired 5 medical experts whereas we only had one. Even the experts all agreed that it could have happened 3-4 hours prior but when the attorney tried to put the blame on the grandmother or the mother, the prosecutor told the judge that it was very possible that it could have happened to the grandmother or the mother but that it was too late to introduce into evidence and the judged agreed. My son is now serving a 12 year sentenced and 10 years probation. In order to avoid serving life, he was given the opportunity to take a plea in less than 10 minutes. (The attorney called me and told me that the SAO had lowered the charges to 2nd Degree and Aggravated Child Abuse but in exchange, he would have to take a plea and if he didn’t he would have to do life with a 20% chance of ever getting a trial in a higher court.) At the same time while I was on my cell with the attorney, my son called his sister on her cell and I gave him the message. Not knowing what to do and pressed for time, he told me to tell the attorney that he was going to take the plea. The conversation between the attorney and I lasted less than 5 minutes. When we arrived in court (sentencing hearing) my son motioned to me that he needed to talk to the attorney. The attorney approached him, talked to my son less than 3 minutes, approached me and my family and told us that my son did not want to take a plea and that he had told my son that if he did not take the plea, he (my son) would have to do life and had less than 20% chance of going through a trial. In total, my son had less than 10 minutes to take a plea. The attorney also had the opportunity for a mistrial (the judge gave him the opportunity) but he refused and did not explain to my son why a mistrial would be granted. (The reason for a mistrial was due to the prosecutor saying something regarding the case and that the judge had warned him not to say it.) My son had a bright future waiting for him but now, because he felt sorry for them and babysat for less than 15 minutes his life has been ruined completely. ONE WORD OF CAUTION FOR LADIES AND GUYS – BE CAREFUL WHEN YOU’RE BABYSITTING. MANY WOMEN HAVE BROUGHT THEIR BABIES TO BE TAKEN CARE OF AND NO MENTION THAT THE CHILD WAS SICK AND IF ANYTHING HAPPENS TO THE CHILD, THE LAST PERSON WITH THAT CHILD WILL BE BLAMED.

      • Ms. Luther: Is there any way Ms. Deborah Tuerkheimer can read my message below regarding my son’s situation? I would like her opinion.

      • I’m guessing Professor Tuerkheimer is inundated with more requests for help than she can handle, but you can try approaching her through the contact information provided on her De Paul University web page: http://www.law.depaul.edu/faculty_staff/faculty_information.asp?id=11

  7. Pat

    Thank you Sue for bringing this timely information to the attention of those
    working tirelessly to help those already caught in the web between the law and
    medicine. Your efforts are always deeply appreciated.

  8. Pingback: “Flawed Convictions – Shaken Baby Syndrome and the Inertia of Injustice” | Wrongful Convictions Blog

  9. Thank you, Deborah, Sue and anyone else who is helping to expose the truth. We still have a battle to clear the previously innocently accussed, myself included:( but im sure these days, lawyers and doctors will now think twice before they try and ruin the lives of other innocent parents

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