Tag Archive for 'children'

Should Leaving Children in Cars Lead to Jail Time or Loss of Custody?

A lot can happen in five minutes. Consider this scenario: A toddler is sleeping in the back seat. Her mother runs off to the store for five minutes. The car is parked in the shade and it’s a cool day.

child neglect left in a carThe child wakes up and finds a small crowd gathered around the vehicle. Strange people are taking pictures with their phones. Mommy tries to save her, but a man in a blue uniform takes Mommy away. The toddler screams and cries as strangers open the car and kidnap her. The toddler is taken to offices and daycares. The little girl is frightened and just wants to go home with her mom.

Most good Samaritans who see children left alone in vehicles take down the license number, call the police, and drive away after the officer arrives. They usually don’t see what happens after the arrest is made and the child is taken. So let me fill in the blanks:

If the parent is charged with child neglect or one of the numerous variations, the parent will be in jail until bail is posted. Depending on the state and county, the case might be heard in juvenile or criminal court. The child is either taken home if there is a caretaker or to protective services. If the parent has the money, the parent can hire a criminal defense attorney. If not, the parent risks significant jail time and losing custody of the child.

Let that sink in for a second. Leaving your child in the car could result in losing custody of the child. Most comments online are along the lines of “Good. Doesn’t deserve to be a parent.” Obviously there isn’t a lot of sympathy for the parents of these children, but I urge readers to consider the children inside the system.

A young child doesn’t know anything about the risks of a hot car or abductions. The toddler is probably sleeping in the back seat or playing with a toy. The toddler only knows her parents were taken away. Removing a toddler from the custody of her parents will mentally and emotionally scar a child for life. Being dragged through the system, even briefly, can emotionally harm a child.

In some cases, removing a child from the custody of a parent is the correct answer. But those situations should be rare. In benign situations like leaving a child in a car, the process and the end game will psychologically damage the children. It is extremely ironic that we protect children from potential physical harm by inflicting emotional pain on them.

What’s Best for the Child Is What’s Best for Society

Leaving a child alone in a car can be dangerous. Children have died when left unattended in an overheated car. And there have been a few cases where parents intentionally leave their children in the car to die. It’s good that we live in a world where people are watching out for kids. However, sending all children and harmless parents through the criminal justice does not help the children. Like the “war on drugs,” society cannot use criminal sanctions to punish otherwise harmless behavior. The results will be horrifying and will have a long impact on society.

Children can be removed from the custody of parents if the parent leaves the child unattended in a car because of prosecutors’ discretion. Prosecutors have the authority to decide what type of crime they can charge defendants with. If a parent leaves a child in a car unattended, the prosecutor can bring a charge of child endangerment. In many states, child endangerment can be a misdemeanor or a felony. If the charge is a felony, the child can be removed from the defendant’s custody.

The problem is that that kind of punishment for a minor incident is absolutely absurd. A small fine or an order to attend parenting classes should be sufficient. There should be enough punishment to send a message that children can die if left unattended, but not so severe that the family itself is threatened. Children can and do die if left unattended in a car. However, going over the speed limit could also potentially put the child’s life in danger. Yet nobody in their right mind would approve of removing child custody over a speeding ticket.

If hardened criminals deserve proportional justice, then new parents should also have punishments that fit the crime. Instead of treating these cases like child molestation, these cases should be at the level of traffic tickets.

Should Parents Be Taxed or Fined for Not Vaccinating Their Children?

Vaccinations became a popular talking point after the Disneyland measles outbreak occurred earlier this year. The topic became very divisive and individuals were either pro or anti-vaccinations. Regardless of which side you are on, it is undeniable that there is a rise in unvaccinated children in the United States. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • The national average of school children vaccinated for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) is 95%, but this number is not consistent throughout all 50 states.
  • 26 states have not reached the national goal of 95% and fall far below.

children vaccineThe average number of vaccinated children varies from state to state due to various state exemptions and vaccination requirements.

  • 48 states allow parents to opt out of vaccinations through religious exemptions.
  • 20 states allow parents to opt out based on philosophical exemptions.
  • States also provide for medical exemptions for children going through chemotherapy or other health treatments that would not allow for vaccinations.

Due to the rising number of children not partaking in vaccinations and the spread of deadly diseases like the measles, many want to know if parents can be held legally accountable for not vaccinating their children.

The cost of outbreaks can be high for both families affected by the disease and the general public. For example, a single case of measles can cost state agencies more than $10,000 to track and stop the spread of the disease.

Due to the economic and physical harms that anti-vaccination can cause, some are calling for vaccine taxation or even more severe penalties, such as legal liability. Proponents of a vaccine tax want non-vaccinating parents to front the bill for these costs. The proposed procedure is to impose fees or have parents pay a charge up-front for not vaccinating.

Many supporters of the tax believe that it’s justified because it would be a deterrent for parents who do not vaccinate their children. Also, supporters believe it would be fair to parents that do vaccinate their children because they wouldn’t be force to pay for the risks taken by non-vaccinating parents.

On the other hand, many people are skeptical that this solution would work because tracking down the unvaccinated individual responsible for the outbreak would be difficult. Still, many are in support of taxes because they believe money is a great motivator that can change an individual’s behavior and choices with regards to vaccines.

States have yet to adopt these taxing laws, so there really isn’t a definitive answer to whether these penalties will be effective or not. Only time will tell if vaccination trends will naturally change or are influenced by government intervention.

Should Cursing around a Child Constitute Child Neglect?

In New Jersey, there exists a 70-year-old law that states “a parent, guardian, or person in charge of a minor could be guilty of a fourth-degree crime of child neglect if he or she habitually uses profane, indecent, or obscene language in front of the minor because it could be detrimental to the minor’s morals.” N.J.S.A 9:6-3.

profanity child neglectThe New Jersey Supreme Court is rethinking whether the law should be upheld or struck down, in light of the recent case of a man who was found guilty of violating the law, which is part of the state’s child abuse statutes. In 2009, the man faced an accusation of committing the crime of sexual assault on his foster son, who was 13 years old at the time. He was charged with a number of crimes, but accepted a plea bargain to a less serious offense.

Prior to accepting the plea bargain, he had served three years, and he completed his prison term. He made previous attempts to have his plea withdrawn, and now, he and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are filing a lawsuit to withdraw his plea. Their lawsuit is based on the First Amendment.

The issue before the judges is: “Did defendant’s admission during his plea allocution to cursing and using off-color language in such a way as to debauch a child’s morals provide an adequate factual basis to establish child neglect under N.J.S.A. 9:6-3?”

His attorneys maintain that the statute was unconstitutional in that the use of profane words does not amount to a crime. In response, one of the jurists said that acceptance of such an argument would be the equivalent of the court stating that it’s allowable for parents or guardians to curse frequently in front of minors.

The prosecutor mentioned to the court that the defendant’s guilty plea should be considered within the context of the charges from which he plea bargained. Those charges could have caused him to be in prison for 20 years.

Another issue noted by one of the jurists is that the defendant didn’t specify the type of offensive language he used when he pleaded guilty to the less serious offense. According to the statute, you have violated the law if you use “profane, indecent, or obscene language” in front of children. If the obscenities appeal to “prurient interests,” then they are not protected by the First Amendment.

Profane language, however, is protected by the First Amendment. But it cannot include “fighting words” that incite someone to violence, or that instigates a riot. Profane language can include words that are believed to be offensive, including those that have vulgar, racist, or sexual overtones. Indecent language is also protected by the First Amendment because not everyone finds such language to be offensive.

I am inclined to agree with the court when it says that making the statute unconstitutional would be tantamount to stating that it is permissible for parents to curse often in front of children. Although profanity may seem harmless, overexposure to vulgarities could have an adverse effect on a child’s morals, ethics, and behavior.

Extreme Child Abuse Leads to Murder in Florida

Two Florida minors are accused of premeditated murder of their older brother. Misty “Ariel” Renee Kornegay, 15, and Nicole Kornegay, 11, are facing charges of the murder of their 16 year old brother, Damien Kornegay.

MISTY RENEE KORNEGAYDamien was sleeping on the couch when Ariel took an unloaded handgun from a locked room, while Nicole kept watch. Renee loaded the gun herself, and shot Damien one time. He was pronounced dead when the police showed up.

The murder was a shock to the small town of White Springs, with the population being only 800. So many questions are still unanswered in this case. Not only how could this happen, but why?

The parents were also arrested based on child neglect causing great bodily harm, and failing to properly supervise their children. Misty Kornegay, 33, had gone on a long work trip with her trucker husband, Keith Kornegay. They had been gone for over 24 hours before the shooting happened Monday, January 5th. The parents were arrested Tuesday.

A three year old boy was also found alone with Damien’s dead body in the home. He was immediately put in the custody of the Florida Department of Children and Families by police.

With each day that passes, an unraveling of past abuse has risen. Ariel has suffered physical and sexual abuse by her uncle over the years. He was convicted of molesting her in 2010. Also in 2010, police were called to the home for “inappropriate behavior” involving Damien and Ariel. Allegedly, the mother found the two having sex. Also, Ariel told investigators that for periods of years she would be locked in a room with just a blanket and bucket. Ariel said earlier that Monday, Damien had beat her up. Authorities have not yet commented on a possible motive in the shooting.

Could years of abuse and neglect drive a child to have murderous intentions?

Right now, Ariel and Nicole are being held at Columbia County Detention Facility without bond. It is not yet clear what Nicole’s role was in the shooting, but Ariel did admit to pulling the trigger to shoot her brother.

Prosecutor Jeff Siegmeister has stated that he has not made a decision in trying them as adults or children. In the state of Florida, juveniles can be held in a detention center for a maximum of 21 days. The judge has ordered an extra nine days in this case. In some juvenile cases, the children may be sent home after the allotted amount of days. But in this case, there is no home to return to. The parents are in jail with a $20,000 bond, and are not allowed unsupervised communication or visits with their children.

Florida School Fakes Shooting as a Drill – Why This Is a Terrible Idea

It’s 10 a.m. on a Thursday morning. You’re at work when you suddenly get a text message from your child. Your child’s message is only one line, but it sends a chill down your spine: “I thought he was going to shoot me.”

school shooting drillYou immediately leave your office. You get to the car and race down to the school. You run a couple of red lights along the way. There are dozens of other parents in the parking lot. Police have their weapons drawn. Nobody knows what is going on. Your heart is pounding. Despite police warnings, you go inside the school and find your child hudled in a corner with a few other classmates. As you take your child out of the school, an announcement comes over the school announcement system. The “shooting” was only a drill.

This “active shooter” drill took place at Jewett Middle Academy in Winter Haven, Florida. On November 13, the school principal announced the school was going into lockdown. Police burst into classrooms with guns drawn, including an AR-15 rifle. The weapons were unloaded, but nobody informed the children. Actually, the school principal and the Winter Haven Police Department neglected to inform parents or even teachers. Parents only found out about the drill through an email after the drill was over.

Winter Haven police have attempted to defend their drill. Officers claim their weapons were unloaded and pointed at the ground. The drill was supposed to simulate the surprise that children, teachers, and parents felt had there been a real shooting. However, the Winter Haven police did acknowledge that feedback was mixed and promised that officers would not use weapons in future drills.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, many states, including Florida, New Jersey, Colorado Tennessee and Missouri have enacted “active shooter drills.” Some of these drills have included volunteers to play hostages and victims. Other drills were more like Winter Haven, where children, parents and teachers were scared senseless. In many drills, an officer acts a gunman and takes “hostages.” Some schools go so far as to use fake blood.

One Terrible Idea

The Winter Haven “drill” is one of the stupidest ideas I’ve ever heard. What if a parent or a teacher heard that there was a shooter and decided that now was the time to use their gun? The hypothetical fire fight that police and school principals were practicing for might become real. Given that many people believe arming teachers is the solution, that’s a very real possibility. The opposite result could also occur. Fire drills have become so common that people often take them for granted. It would be extremely ironic if schools had so many drills that when a real shooter shows up some people might not realize it before the shooter starts killing people.

Winter Haven police claim that they didn’t inform the community about their drill because they wanted to create the surprise that comes from a shooting. We have plenty of fire or earthquake drills and nobody proposes that we should heat or shake buildings to replicate the terror of a fire or earthquake. Indeed, some elderly individuals or young children might have heart conditions that could be triggered if the “drills” go so far as to terrify them.

In California, we conduct earthquake drills because earthquakes are a likely possibility that could occur and we have little in the way of a warning system. In the mid-west, we practice tornado drills because tornados will arise and we can’t stop tornados. We prepare for natural disasters with drills because there’s little else we can do about those disasters.

School shootings are very different. School shootings appear to be becoming more common, but they are far from natural. We cannot do anything to prevent earthquakes, but we can do far more to address school shootings. Arming teachers is a possibility. Treating more mentally ill people is another option. Creating or expanding insurance for depression and mental health is a good alternative. My point is that school shootings don’t have to be common and they don’t have to be unpreventable forces of nature. School shootings are the results of sick individuals in what some call a sick society. It’s a bad idea to equalize human actions with acts of god.

These drills concede that we cannot stop shootings. These drills treat shooters like faceless natural disasters, such as earthquakes, fires, or tornados. The problem is that the shooters are human. Potential shooters can be treated so that they don’t become the unstoppable beasts of destruction that the drills will treat them as. If we mischaracterize the nature of these shootings, we will only bring more harm upon our children.