Many have heard the term Negligent Homicide in cases involving DUI or discharging of a firearm causing death. There is a specific term used in Florida criminal statutes known as Culpable Negligence that defines what kind of behavior can be criminally prosecuted if the negligent behavior causes death. The actual charge would be Aggravated Manslaughter, a first degree felony, and the State would have to prove that you caused the death of another acting with Culpable Negligence.
In September of 2016 a Hillsborough County firefighter caused the death of his 23 month old toddler by leaving the child in the back seat of his Chevy Silverado pickup truck for eight hours. In a previous blog we wrote about this story. Yesterday, the Tampa Bay Times revealed that this firefighter would not be charged – with any crime at all! The basic facts as described by the Times were as follows:
- the defendant left home with his two children in his truck and dropped the five year old off at school at about 8:30 a.m.
- he was supposed to drop his 23 month old toddler off at day care after this, “but for some reason he didn’t”
- he went home and made some phone calls about signing his daughter up for soccer then studied for a firefighter exam, leaving the child in the car
- he later went outside to walk his dog but didn’t notice his son still in the car
- at 3;30 p.m. he drove to Publix with the child in the car and then came home
- not until he came home from Publix did he notice his toddler, still in the car seat behind him where he had been left all day
- his wife was out of town
We have written in the past about the need to get a lawyer involved in your criminal case before the State Attorney’s Office files charges against you. This is because without such intervention on your part, the State will have no version of events which defend you, only accusations which they will use to build a case against you. In this case, the defendant was wise to get a lawyer involved. The problem, and the point of the blog, is the unfair and subjective nature of criminal prosecution.
I have seen people get arrested and prosecuted for things so stupid and unfair, that the decision to not file this charge has to move from the realm of bizarre to suspicious. The reason why is that to prove that the death of this little child was a crime, the State would need to prove the death occurred by Culpable Negligence. Below is the Jury Instruction which defines the behavior that would need to be shown in order to convict a person for Manslaughter, a first degree felony, by Culpable Negligence.
The prosecutors in this case informed the Times that they would need to prove the defendant acted “recklessly” and with “intentional disregard”. But that is not exactly what the legal definition of Culpable Negligence requires. At trial, the state would have to prove that the Defendant acted in a way that satisfied the definition below. Have a look and see if this man did is enough.
I’m a big fan of a fair and vigorous defense, but unless you are completely high or inebriated (not alleged in this case) I would like to know how it is an “accident” for a person to strap their 23 month old child into the car seat behind them at 8:30 a.m., drop their other kid off at school, come home for 8 hours, walk the dog, all the while with the toddler still in the car – then go to Publix and leave the child in the hot car again – not noticing until you get home with the groceries? Any sane human being with children knows that this doesn’t happen. So how does this, in no way, satisfy the definition below and become an accident?