Missouri House backs bill to punish shaken baby deaths

Wednesday, March 7, 2012 | 9:33 a.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — People who injure or kill a baby by shaking the child could face tougher penalties under legislation moving through the Missouri House.

The House has endorsed a measure expanding Missouri's child abuse law to specifically cover causing a baby's death or injury by shaking.

Sponsor Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, said current law makes it difficult to prosecute people when a child dies from "shaken baby syndrome."

Her legislation would make it a crime to recklessly cause head injuries to any child.

A person who commits child abuse in Missouri currently faces up to seven years in prison and a $20,000 fine. Under Riddle's legislation, anyone who commits child abuse on a child under the age of 2 would face five to 15 years in prison.


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Sue Luttner March 7, 2012 | 7:15 p.m.

I'm sorry, this sounds like a terrible idea.

As noted in reader comments in February, after the longer Missourian story on the subject (at, shaken baby syndrome has become exceptionally controversial in recent years. Two key tenets of the classic theory are especially troublesome:

• Specificity of the condition: Doctors once thought that the pattern of intracranial bleeding and swelling that define SBS proved abuse. If the brain injury was present with no bruises, welts, fractures, or other signs of battering, the abuse was presumed to be by shaking. But accumulated experience and improved technology have now revealed a long and growing list of legitimate medical conditions that can produce the cluster, including metabolic disorders, vitamin deficiencies, certain types of infections, and more.

• Timing of the injuries: Doctors once thought that the effects of a shaking assault would be obvious immediately, implying that the person with the child when the seizures and breathing problems started was guilty of abuse. A number of cases have now been documented, however, in which an ultimately fatal brain injury went undetected for several hours. This development casts doubt on hundreds of convictions based on the theory of immediate symptoms.

I do agree that child abuse is a problem. We need to find a way to protect children, however, while exercising much more caution about accusations against possibly innocent caretakers.

For the tragic story of a family eventually exonerated of shaking allegations, please see

(Report Comment)
Sheila Berry March 8, 2012 | 11:55 a.m.

Why on earth do you need another layer of law on top of what you currently have? Murder is already a crime. Child abuse is already a crime. And who in their right mind wants to change the law to define a crime by a diagnosis that many doctors believe is "junk medicine?"

(Report Comment)

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