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Caregivers and minors – Fairfax criminal lawyer on reckless disregard

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Caregivers and minors - Fairfax criminal lawyer on reckless disregard - Photo of judge's gavel

Caregivers and minors – Fairfax criminal lawyer on reckless disregard

Caregivers and Virginia’s reckless endangerment statute as addressed by Fairfax criminal lawyer

Caregivers should think twice before agreeing to be entrusted with minors. As a Fairfax criminal lawyer, I know this by simply considering the following Virginia statute: “Any parent, guardian, or other person responsible for the care of a child under the age of 18 whose willful act or omission in the care of such child was so gross, wanton, and culpable as to show a reckless disregard for human life is guilty of a Class 6 felony.” Va. Code § 18.2-371.1(B). (“reckless endangerment” statute).

The foregoing reckless endangerment statute alone places caregivers — babysitters, parents and legal guardians — all the more at risk of being criminally accused, even when no assault takes place — for any injuries to a minor that happen under their watch, even if it is a five year old child (for instance) who gets harmed by an electrical shock by sticking a paperclip into the socket, even if the caregiver is in the bathroom at the time.

Virginia reckless endangerment is not limited to criminalizing assault

Virginia Code § 18.2-371.1(B) is not limited to criminalizing affirmative acts of caregivers, but also even omissions (like not preventing a child from playing with electrical sockets). The essential element of requiring that the omission be “gross or wanton” is no great prize, because the subsequent statutory modifier addresses “reckless disregard for human life”, which some jurors might interpret as meaning not hovering over a minor enough to watch the child’s safety.

Caregivers who return a child found to be black and blue are at criminal risk

The Virginia Court of Appeals last week found that the evidence was sufficient to convict Lena Pullin of reckless endangerment under § 18.2-371.1(B), where the evidence against her showed nothing worse than that she picked up her fourteen month old child P.P. from Pullin’s guardian mother, Pullin returned her three days later without mentioning any injuries (but did mention fussiness on the first day), and Pullin’s mother the next day found bruising on the child’s buttock and thigh areas. Pullin v. Virginia, Record No. 1117-18-1 (Va. App., Oct. 15, 2019)  (unpublished). Of course any assault on a child is unacceptable, and a child so young never merits corporal punishment (which I already totally oppose with all children).

The testifying expert pediatrician against Pullin asserted that the photos of P.P.’s bruising showed that trauma resulting from repetitive blunt force, but was unable to say what could have caused the injury. While the expert witness typically saw such injuries arising from “‘belts, rulers, [and] toys with a linear edge,'” she could not rule out other causes. The expert pediatrician did say that P.P.’s injuries “could not have resulted from the child falling from a standing position, tumbling down the stairs, or falling on a toy.” Caregivers be on guard. Pullin. 

Sitting without a jury, the court convicted Pullin of reckless endangerment without Pullin having said anything about the matter that was admitted into evidence other than telling a police detective that “’she was the only one who had sole care and custody for the whole weekend,'”, and then Pullin stopped answering questions when the detective asked what had happened with P.P.’s injuries. The Court of Appeals affirmed Pullin’s conviction.

Fairfax criminal lawyer Jonathan L. Katz pursues your best defense against felony, misdemeanor, and DUI prosecutions. To discuss your pending criminal court case with Jon Katz via a free in-person consultation, please call his staff at 703-383-1100.