A Virginia criminal case has become the focus of a national debate over the reliability of scientific evidence about shaken baby syndrome. A Court of Appeals panel this week will consider whether to hear an appeal based in part on whether a jury ignored critical medical testimony in the case of an imprisoned care giver.
A Fairfax County day care provider hopes to overturn her conviction and 10-year sentence for causing severe and permanent injuries to a 4-month-old boy in her care. Lawyers for Trudy Eliana Munoz Rueda argue their expert testified without contradiction the woman was incapable of exerting the physical force necessary to cause the injuries to Noah Whitmer.
The Rueda case was a centerpiece for a New York Times Magazine article on recent challenges to formerly accepted conclusions drawn from examination of the young victims of suspected abuse. “Shaken baby cases are haunted by the enormous repercussions of getting it wrong – the conviction of innocent adults, on the one hand, and on the other, the danger to children of missing serious abuse,” wrote Emily Bazelon, a Slate senior editor and the Truman Capote law-and-media fellow at Yale Law School.
The briefs in the Rueda case, filed with the Court of Appeals of Virginia, are posted on the website of David Bernhard of Falls Church, Rueda’s lead appellate counsel. Bernhard said a hearing is scheduled for Tuesday before a three-judge writ panel sitting in Alexandria.
By Peter Vieth