Magnarelli: We Need to Impose Stricter Penalties on ‘Shaken Baby Syndrome’

Assemblyman Bill Magnarelli (D-Syracuse) announced that the Assembly has passed new legislation targeting “Shaken Baby Syndrome” that he sponsored which makes reckless assault causing brain injury to a child under 5 years of age a Class D felony, carrying a penalty of up to seven years in prison (A.10539).

“Shaken Baby Syndrome is the result of child abuse,” Magnarelli said. “Too many children have needlessly died and suffered because of this cruel, unthinking behavior. It’s time we punish those who commit this crime against our must vulnerable and defenseless persons. This law helps prosecutors put violent offenders in prison, where they belong.”

Magnarelli explained that under current law, if a defendant commits a reckless assault on a child that causes serious brain injury, the defendant may only be guilty of a misdemeanor. To further help prosecutors, the measure adds hallmark signs of Shaken Baby Syndrome – a definable medical condition – as indicators of serious brain injury.

The legislation is named Cynthia’s Law after 8-month-old Cynthia Gibbs, who died from a brain injury at the hands of her babysitter on Nov. 17, 2000. The law also creates a Shaken Baby Syndrome public educational campaign to help prevent future tragedies.

“Between a quarter and a third of Shaken Baby Syndrome victims die, and it’s a problem that is growing,” Magnarelli said. “Of the infants who survive this brutal act, more than half suffer severe injuries and impairments, which may include blindness, paralysis or mental retardation. My legislation would not only punish but also educate soon-to-be parents on how dangerous it is to shake a baby.”

Cynthia’s Law calls for a public educational campaign through additional informational materials in print, audio, video, electronic and other media, as well as public service announcements and advertisements informing the public about brain injuries and other harmful effects that may result from shaking infants and children under 5 years of age, Magnarelli said. This measure builds on a law I authored in 2004, that requires hospitals and birth centers to show a video on the dangers of shaking babies to maternity patients and fathers (Ch. 219 of 2004).

I will continue to do all I can to stop this abuse. Another piece of legislation that I authored recently passed the Assembly, which requires all high school students to watch a video on Shaken Baby Syndrome (A.6832). The film would include the consequences of shaking a baby and how to prevent it. The instruction would be part of the already required parenting education students receive before graduation.

“Many people don’t realize that taking their frustrations out on a baby by shaking him or her, can cause serious consequences,” Magnarelli said. “By presenting information in a non-threatening way, it’s more likely that infant caregivers will stop and think about what they’re doing, and baby shaking cases will decrease. As the Senate also recently passed this legislation, I urge the governor to sign it into law.”