NEW EVIDENCE 2011-2012: Changes in Pediatric Forensic Science

Since the Louise Woodward case in 1997, and the death of little Matthew Eappen, there has been much debate and many questions raised regarding short distance falls and the effects on traumatic head injuries in children. See Dr. Plunkett: Shaken Baby Syndrome: The Death of Matthew Eappen. Predominant beliefs that young children could not survive traumatic head trauma and have prolonged moments of lucidity have been challenged and reassessed. Numerous studies have been conducted and previous conclusions have been rejected.  Over the last decade it has become widely accepted that a small child CAN suffer traumatic head trauma with intracranial bleeding from a short fall and have prolonged intervals of lucidity, while presenting with neurological symptoms. See Drs. Lantz and Couture 2011 Stairway Falls and Review  

Also of concern were inaccurate opinions offered by the medical testimony of prosecution witnesses. Because of beliefs that pediatric head trauma and subdural hemorrhages are not survivable, and that a child would be rendered unconscious immediately, it was often mistakenly implied that an injury could be timed and that a perpetrator could be identified solely on the medical findings. This often leads to the assumption that the last person with the child must have inflicted the injuries. See  Drs. Squier and Barnes and Wisconsin Law: SBS, ABT and Actual Innocence: Getting it Right  

In additional, new opinions have been formed regarding minor, second impacts causing rebleeds and acute clinical deterioration, specifically in stairway falls. See Drs. Hymel, Jenny and Block: Rebleed in Abusive Head Trauma and  Dr. Cantu: Second Impact Syndrome Further, expert medical testimony in cases involving children and head trauma also came into question when irresponsible witnesses started to offer unique theories of causation that are not supported by pertinent medical literature. See  Dr. Albert: Ensuring Appropriate Expert Testimony in SBS Cases and Drs.  Squier and Barnes and Wisconsin Law: SBS, ABT and Actual Innocence: Getting it Right

Specifically of concern was the comparison of child head trauma being described as being the equivalent to falls from second story windows, from trees, or head-on collisions. None of these comparisons have any scientific foundation. In his research, Dr. Plunkett presented evidence to the contrary as he specifically referred to this common comparison which is used strictly to depict an image for the jury. See  Dr. Plunkett: Fatal Pediatric Head Injuries Drs. Goldsmith and Plunkett: Biomechanical Analysis: Traumatic Brain Injuries in Infants and Children  ; and   Attorney Heather Kirkwood: SBS Where Are We Now? 

In conclusion, many in the scientific community began to feel that advances in forensic science have shown that some previous conclusions and opinions were just plain wrong. They noted that pathologists often came to inaccurate conclusions because of a lack of specialized training and appropriate board certification, applying unproven science and from working too close with law enforcement.

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