Robert Roberson with daugh­ter Nikki. Courtesy of the Roberson family.

On June 15, 2023, five amicus briefs were filed with the United States Supreme Court in support of Robert Roberson (pictured with his daughter, Nikki), a Texas death-sentenced prisoner who has long claimed to be innocent of causing the death of his daughter. Mr. Roberson filed his petition with the Supreme Court on May 11th after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) denied his request for a new trial despite the presentation of new scientific evidence that soundly discredited the “shaken baby syndrome” (SBS) theory the prosecution had relied upon at trial. A 2021 evidentiary hearing had also presented compelling new medical evidence establishing that the victim, Mr. Roberson’s 2-year-old daughter, died of natural and accidental causes. Mr. Roberson, who received an execution date in 2016, has asked the Supreme Court to overturn the CCA’s decision.  

The amicus briefs filed today are authored by experts from a number of different disciplines. The brief of Concerned Physicians and Scientists states that “previously prevailing scientific belief regarding SBS has been discredited, and amici file this brief out of concern that some courts, including those below, continue to rely uncritically on outdated theories and refuse to consider the current state of the science… .” 

The Center for Integrity in Forensic Sciences writes that Mr. Roberson “was sentenced to death based on scientific evidence the forensic community now understands to be outdated and deeply flawed. No conviction should be allowed to stand on this foundation, particularly a death sentence.” 

In the brief of Retired Federal Judges, five retired federal judges, including one from Texas, write that, “The Texas court system failed Roberson. It failed to fully and fairly consider th[e] new evidence. It rubber-stamped a capital conviction based on unreliable medical evidence. It denied Roberson the constitutional process he is due. And his life hangs in the balance as a result. This Court’s review is needed to prevent that miscarriage of justice.” 

In addition, an amicus brief filed by Witness to Innocence details the stories of nine parents or caregivers in seven states who were falsely convicted of harming or killing a child under the discredited SBS theory, only to be exonerated after years or decades in prison. The brief also notes that wrongful convictions are often premised on “inappropriate reactions” to illness, injury or death. Robert Roberson was a special education student when he dropped out of 9th grade, and he also has autism. Hospital staff did not know Mr. Roberson had autism and judged his response to his daughter’s grave condition as lacking emotion, which in turn raised the suspicions of investigators. The jury never learned of Mr. Roberson’s autism. 

Finally, a brief filed by The Innocence Project of Texas raised additional concerns, in addition to the fact that “the CCA summarily denied relief, despite overwhelming record evidence that [Mr. Roberson’s] underlying conviction and death sentence rest on tabloid science.” The brief notes that “[a]s courts in other jurisdictions have held, upholding a conviction in these circumstances violates fundamental due process principles. But the decision below raises a second and independent constitutional concern: the courts failed to engage meaningfully with the postconviction record, and instead uncritically adopted nearly word-for-word the prosecution’s proposed findings below.”

Mr. Roberson has spent 20 years on death row in Texas. 


Read the ami­cus briefs in Roberson v. Texas.