As we have reported, the reliability of forensic evidence is increasingly questioned; and Shaken Baby Syndrome convictions rely on junk science and tunnel vision, writes Chris Brook* in this extract from his latest blog.
Earlier this month, Jesse Vinaccia was sentenced to 8.5 years jail for supposedly shaking to death his then girlfriend’s 17 week old son. The number of statements made by the expert witnesses during the trial that lacked any scientific foundation are too many to document in one blog post.
Dr. Jo Tully, Deputy Director of the Victorian Forensic Paediatric Medical Service at the Royal Children’s and Monash Children’s hospitals, wrote in her report that ‘The presence of sudden unexplained collapse, intracranial haemorrhages, retinal haemorrhages and cerebral hypoxic ischaemic injury in an infant indicates head trauma that was almost certainly caused by acceleration−deceleration and rotational forces.’
At trial, Tully stated that ‘When you have the pattern of subdural haemorrhage, retinal haemorrhage and encephalopathy seen in Kaleb, then I do not believe there is a medical controversy about that diagnosis, no.’
Never mind that one of the world’s premier medical evidence review organisations, the Swedish SBU, made an exhaustive two year review of all the literature and found that there was insufficient evidence to support such a diagnosis. Let’s just ignore that shall we? Not even mention it to the jury. No controversy here! No reasonable doubts! Those Swedes are being unreasonable! They don’t even constitute a controversy! Why mention the Swedes when we can draw on confession studies (see here) about which we have no expertise and know next to nothing! The Swedes are irrelevant and the jury does not need to hear about them! No mind that this was by far the most comprehensive review of the literature pertaining to Shaken Baby Syndrome made anywhere in the world!
The evidence of the experts against Jesse Vinaccia is not corrupt. But the fact that the experts are convinced of guilt, and the fact that they are convinced that they are fighting for helpless infants, leads to what I like to call ‘noble cause bias’, which leads to confirmation bias whereby they use very, very low quality evidence to support their views on shaken baby syndrome, and ignore all evidence that contradicts their view. Tunnel vision.
* Chris Brook is a scientist with a legal background, who is concerned about the way that science is mis-understood and mis-used in our criminal justice system.