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Thread: Homicide By Arson: Morally Guilty, Legally Innocent?

  1. #11
    Spock of Vulcan Ian Jeffrey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeremy View Post
    She'll be lucky to escape prosecution.

    3. "Recklessly." A person acts recklessly with respect to a result or
    to a circumstance described by a statute defining an offense when he is
    aware of and consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk
    that such result will occur or that such circumstance exists. The risk
    must be of such nature and degree that disregard thereof constitutes a
    gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person
    would observe in the situation. A person who creates such a risk but is
    unaware thereof solely by reason of voluntary intoxication also acts
    recklessly with respect thereto.


    Her kid had a history of turning the burners on and off on the stove - so she was aware of the dangerous situation yet consciously disregarded it.

    So there is a case to be made here for negligent homicide.
    She could perhaps be prosecuted, but even if it makes it past the grand jury, it is unlikely there is a guilty verdict (assuming the trial gets that far). There is no proximate cause between the mother's failure to act and the deaths. Rather, it is a remote cause, attenuated by the child's affirmative act.
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  2. #12
    Veteran Member Madeline's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ian Jeffrey View Post
    I do not believe it would be relevant, because there must be a duty to warn in the first place, such that failure to warn is actionable. And I do not believe it is, because the statute expressly says "causes," and a causational nexus cannot be drawn between the mother's failure to act and the death. Certainly, the death resulted, but the cause was the child, not the mother.

    And as publius3 noted, this could of course justify a civil suit, but that would not be practical. The most the plaintiff(s) could get would be a judgment that could not be collected on.
    I agree with you, but I am happy to pass new criminal laws such that this mom COULD be found guilty of something.

    Failure to supervise a chikd, whose vandalism caused a death, possibly? What would be so unconstitutional or unwise about that?

  3. #13
    Spock of Vulcan Ian Jeffrey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Madeline View Post
    Failure to supervise a chikd, whose vandalism caused a death, possibly? What would be so unconstitutional or unwise about that?
    I do not believe constitutionality would be an issue. The problem is that it would have to be made a strict liability crime, and those are rather unpopular. From the link:

    "As the federal constitution entrenches a right of due process, the United States usually applies strict liability to only the most minor crimes or infractions. One example would be parking violations, where the state only needs to show that the defendant's vehicle was parked inappropriately at a certain curb. But serious crimes like rape and murder require some showing of culpability or mens rea. Otherwise, every accidental death, even during medical treatment in good faith, could become grounds for a murder prosecution and a prison sentence." (Boldface supplied.)
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  4. #14
    Veteran Member Isalexi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Madeline View Post




    Bronx fire-starter's mom didn't alert neighbors to blaze: tenant - NY Daily News

    So, to recap, the allegations are:

    1. Mom had custody of a 3 year old boy with a propensity to start fires, whom she regularly failed to supervise.

    2. Mom spread the fire in her apartment throughout the building by leaving her apartment door open.

    3. Mom did not raise the alarm with her neighbors, or did so only after firefighters had arrived and then only in a perfunctory manner.

    4. Mom's 3 year old son started a fire on his stove that ultimately killed 12 of his neighbors, injured others and destroyed the building and its contents.

    Is Mom guilty of any crime, if these facts as alleged can be proven?

    I don't think so, and I am willing to discuss changing the criminal law so that others like her would be prosecuted.

    Your thoughts?
    It’s very easy to say what we would do. I doubt if she realized the fire would spread the way it did,

  5. #15
    Veteran Member Madeline's Avatar
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    Fair enough. But Ian, I would argue this mom had a bad intent, because she knew her son's propensity for fire setting and nonetheless failed to supervise.

    This was not a 12 year old, whose physical access to fire starting materials she could not completely bar. He is only 3! She could have put an alarm on his bedroom door, so she'd know if he left his bedroom at night.

  6. #16
    Spock of Vulcan Ian Jeffrey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Isalexi View Post
    I doubt if she realized the fire would spread the way it did.
    Probably not, but she did know the child had a propensity to light up the stove.
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  7. #17
    Spock of Vulcan Ian Jeffrey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Madeline View Post
    Fair enough. But Ian, I would argue this mom had a bad intent, because she knew her son's propensity for fire setting and nonetheless failed to supervise.
    Specific intent means she had to intend the child's action lead to the result that it did. She had no such intent. This failure to supervise would be criminal negligence at most.
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  8. #18
    Veteran Member Madeline's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ian Jeffrey View Post
    Specific intent means she had to intend the child's action lead to the result that it did. She had no such intent. This failure to supervise would be criminal negligence at most.
    I would be satisfied with a criminal negligence law, on these facts.

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