Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Creators: A Parent Convicted for the Conduct of a Child

Matthew T. Mangino
Creators Syndicate
February 12, 2024

William Shakespeare wrote in "The Merchant of Venice," "The sins of the father are to be laid upon the children." In the centuries since, children continue to suffer for the bad conduct of their parents. Recently, in what appears to be a bit of a twist, a jury in Michigan found a mother criminally responsible for the crimes of her son.

The charges, and conviction, of Jennifer Crumbley are unprecedented. According to NBC News, it was the first time a parent in the U.S. was held criminally responsible for a child's school shooting rampage.

Ethan Crumbley shot and killed four students and injured seven others at Oxford High School in Oakland County, Michigan, on Nov. 30, 2021.

In order to find Jennifer Crumbley guilty of four counts of involuntary manslaughter the jury had to find that she was extremely reckless and/or grossly negligent. Voluntary manslaughter does not require intent to harm or kill, but rather, as in Crumbley's case, could she have prevented something and did not?

In Michigan gross negligence "is conduct that presents an unreasonably high degree of risk to others and by a failure to exercise even the slightest care in protecting them from it and that is sometimes associated with conscious and willful indifference to their rights."

Can we expect that the parents of every kid who takes a weapon to school and harms someone will be in jeopardy of criminal prosecution? The facts of each case will determine the responsibility, if any, for the parents. However, in the wake of Crumbley's conviction, there will be a great deal of pressure on prosecutors to thoroughly investigate, and prosecute, parents for the role they played in some catastrophic crime.

Jennifer Crumbley's conduct cried out for accountability. Initially Ethan Crumbley went to his parents for help. He confessed to hearing voices and having hallucinations. His parents failed to seek treatment on his behalf.

Crumbley and her husband, James, helped Ethan buy a semiautomatic handgun just days before the shooting. Jennifer Crumbley took her son to a practice range to shoot the handgun. The gun was left unsecured in the house.

On the morning of the shooting, Mom and Dad were summoned to the school regarding some alarming classroom drawings on Ethan's notebook. They refused to take Ethan out of school because of work commitments, and did not tell the school Ethan had a gun.

Upon receiving an emergency text that there was an active shooter at Ethan's school — his parents didn't immediately rush to school to see if their son was safe — James went home to see if his son's gun and ammunition were in the home. Their first thought was that Ethan may be the shooter.

I'm sure there were failings by parents of other school shooters. This verdict does not necessarily open every parent of a school shooter to be prosecuted. However, it may be a first step in holding parents responsible, generally, for the conduct of their children.

What if a parent owns a gun, and their teenage daughter takes the gun and commits an armed robbery? Is that parent responsible for the child's conduct?

Obviously, a jury decision in Michigan has no precedential value in any other courtroom in Michigan, let alone across the country. Heck, James Crumbley will be tried next month on the same four counts of involuntary manslaughter and may be found not guilty.

This verdict charts a path forward for expanding the number of people to be blamed for a horrendous event like a school massacre. Horrified observers find comfort in pointing the finger at some person, or reason, for the senseless killing — in this case it is poor parenting.

To paraphrase Shakespeare, all parents may pay the price for the sins of some parents. The pain of losing a child is incomprehensible. The pain endured by parents of a child who takes the lives of other children is also crushing — being blamed for their child's conduct would be catastrophic.

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book "The Executioner's Toll, 2010" was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.

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