The Supreme Court reinstated the shaken baby conviction of Shirley Ree Smith. She allegedly shook her grandson to death which the federal appeals court in San Francisco overturned.
Shirley Ree Smith was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison in December 1997 for the murder of her 7-week-old grandson. In 2006, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned her conviction by stating the case was a “miscarriage of justice.”
In November 2011, the Supreme Court Justices voted 6-3 to reverse the ruling in favor of Smith and to reinstate her conviction. Although the high court agreed that the doubts of Smith’s guilt are “understandable,” they believe the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals should have upheld the state’s conviction.
These “understandable” doubts about the guilt of Shirley Ree Smith are the result of an ongoing controversy about the existence of Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS). SBS is a phrase used to describe child abuse involving head trauma that could be the result of shaking. The three main symptoms of SBS include subdural hemorrhage, retinal hemorrhage, and brain swelling or damage. These symptoms are believed to be caused by an adult holding a child by their body and shaking them rigorously back and forth, causing their head to rock as well. This theory is generally accepted due to the lack of evidence of an impact-induced injury.
Those who disregard the existence of SBS believe that shaking alone is not enough to cause such injuries that lead to death. They believe some sort of impact against a surface is necessary to cause this sort of damage. Many people have their own beliefs about the existence of SBS. An autopsy has proven that there was enough damage done to Smith’s grandson to tear his brainstem. Also, there was bleeding into his optic nerves as a result of contusions to the brain. These contusions are the result of “violent shaking.”
As you can see, there is a lot of evidence supporting the existence of SBS especially in the Smith case. However, the Supreme Court did not reinstate her conviction as a matter of opinion concerning her guilt or the existence of SBS. They reinstated her conviction on the basis that it is not their job, nor the job of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, to determine whether the state was correct in their theory about Smith’s guilt. That was the jury’s job.