Shaken baby syndrome is a serious condition that sadly affects over 1,000 babies in the United States alone every year. In approximately 25% of these cases, the baby dies. In the majority of cases where the shaken baby survives, they end up with lifelong disabilities in one form or another.
Under California law, shaken baby syndrome is most often prosecuted as a form of child abuse. The penalties for this offense can be quite harsh, especially if shaking the baby resulted in the child’s death.
California Health and Safety Code
Shaken baby syndrome is outlined in the California Health and Safety (H&S) Code §§24520-24522. This part of the H&S Code defines shaken baby syndrome as “a medically serious, sometimes fatal, matter affecting newborns and very young children.”
It further states that “Vigorous shaking of an infant or child can result in bleeding inside the head, causing irreversible brain damage, blindness, cerebral palsy, hearing loss, spinal cord injury, seizures, learning disabilities, and even death.”
The Health and Safety Code also recognizes that, unfortunately, many people remain ignorant about the dangers of shaking a baby. This ignorance persists despite the fact that it is well-known within the medical community. These sections of the Health and Safety Code also discuss the creation of a statewide program to increase public awareness of the dangers of shaking a child and methods for distributing information to caregivers.
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Common Injuries Resulting from Shaken Baby Syndrome
Shaken baby syndrome can result in both short-term and long-term harm. Shaking a baby can result in a traumatic brain injury (TBI) which can affect the child for the rest of their life. In the short-term, shaken baby syndrome can be detected by the following symptoms:
- No smiling
- No laughing
- No talking
- Difficulty swallowing
- Labored breathing
- Difficulty sucking
- Not eating
- Stiffness of muscles
- Overly relaxed muscles
Long-term health problems that can arise, include:
- Hearing loss
- Cerebral palsy
- Learning difficulties
- Behavior problems
Shaken baby syndrome can result from a single occurrence of shaking a baby. It does not take habitual shaking to cause long-term damage. Even a single instance of violently shaking a baby can result in the death of the infant.
Criminal Charges for Shaken Baby Syndrome
There are several criminal charges that a parent or caregiver might face if their child is diagnosed with shaken baby syndrome. Child abuse, assault, and homicide can all be charged depending on the circumstances. However, the worst punishment of all is often knowing that you have harmed and possibly even killed the child.
Most people who are responsible for shaken baby syndrome do not intend to hurt the baby. Instead, they are stressed and tired and simply want the baby to stop crying. Loving parents can be guilty of shaking their baby and causing irreparable damage.
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Education Is Essential to Preventing Shaken Baby Syndrome
The best way to reduce the number of cases of shaken baby syndrome is by educating parents and caregivers. Not only is it important to inform them of the extreme dangers of shaking a baby, but they also need to be aware of what is considered normal behavior for a baby, as well as other steps they can take when their child is crying too much.
Being a new parent can be very stressful. You are likely overworked and under-rested. It is not uncommon for a baby to cry loudly for approximately three hours a day. The fact that they are crying does not necessarily mean they need something.
Parents should know that as long as they go through the checklist of seeing if the baby is hungry, needs to be changed, does not have a fever, etc., it is okay to put the baby in a safe place (like their crib) and take a short break. Even ten to fifteen minutes in the other room away from the crying can be enough to help you reset.
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Shaken Baby Syndrome Can Be Misdiagnosed
There are several diagnostic tools and tests that doctors can use to help identify whether a baby has been shaken or not. In any case, where a doctor suspects that injuries may have resulted from any form of child abuse, they are required to run a thorough examination. While these tests can certainly help to narrow down when abuse has occurred, they are not foolproof.
Sometimes, symptoms may suggest shaken baby syndrome when the problem actually lies elsewhere. If you have been wrongly accused of causing your child harm, it is critical that you hire a lawyer with experience handling these types of cases. Winning your case is essential to maintaining your parental rights.
Contact the Attorneys at Simmrin Law Group for Help
Contact the Simmrin Law Group to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation today. We will review your case and advise you of all your legal rights. We can answer any questions you might have and build a strong case to help you avoid a conviction and maintain custody of your child.