According to this story, a 19 year-old man in New Jersey has been charged with manslaughter and is accused of shaking his girlfriend's baby to death. There's just one problem: shaken baby syndrome is bunk. For decades now, we've been convicting people of some form of manslaughter or murder for shaking a baby too hard, so hard that the baby suffers massive brain trauma. But the fundamental underlying premise of the syndrome is flawed. Deeply flawed. So flawed that the syndrome has been renamed to Abusive Head Trauma (still a flawed name, though, as it doesn't just identify symptoms but presumes a cause).
I'm not going to get into all the details here. I haven't ever dealt with an SBS case, so I'm not as well-versed in the medical issues as I could be. Instead, I would refer you to this law review article (shameless plug: one of the authors was one of my advisers in law school: go Keith!).
The bottom line is that shaking as a mechanism for causing these head traumas has been debunked. The amount of force that would be necessary would also show massive injuries to the infant's neck. But SBS cases never involve those injuries. The premise is that a triad of symptoms exist (subdural hemorrhage, retinal hemorrhage, and encephalopathy) that trigger a diagnose of this shaking trauma and that the onset of symptoms can be used to pinpoint the time of injury, thus identifying the perpetrator. But none of this is true. This triad of symptoms can occur from all sorts of natural and accidental causes and the onset of symptoms can vary widely.
Understandably, this is a hard topic for medical researchers to investigate because one cannot test the hypotheses on actual infants. So it has taken some time to realize the flaws in the premises behind SBS. But we have enough information now that we ought to have moved past still perpetuating the myth that people shake babies to death. Sadly, though, it is still a widely accepted concept. Then what happens is that a parent or family member or caretaker reeling from the death of an infant is confronted with this medical theory and urged to admit getting frustrated and possibly shaking the baby a little too hard. An awful lot of people have been convicted this way, which ought to trouble all of us.
In this New Jersey case, I have no idea what the circumstances are. Maybe there really are severe neck injuries to the child, but there probably aren't. And if there aren't, it's not a shaking case. (Sort of like the vast majority of purported shaking cases...) Perhaps it is clear that this young man is responsible for the child's death through some form of abuse and the use of the word "shaking" is just loose terminology. He may well be responsible, but we're not going to get any sort of reliable result if the police and prosecutors continue to pursue cases as shaking cases. Because the truth is there really isn't any such thing.