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Virginia reckless endangerment of a minor requires knowledge that injury will result from the omission

Virginia criminal defense lawyer on defending against reckless endangerment prosecutions

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A Virginia reckless endangerment conviction for leaving a child unattended in a car is not available without proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the adult defendant responsible for the minor knew that injury would result from the defendant’s omission.

Repeatedly, we see harried, and even unharried, adults leaving their too-young children all alone in the car at a shopping center, while picking up dry cleaning or a pizza, dropping off a package at the post office, and engaging in other activity that never is important enough to leave too-young children unattended. Engaging in such behavior risks becoming a criminal defendant, and a conviction.

Kaniesha Shatae Hannon learned her lesson the hard way never again to leave her four-month-old child and five year old child unattended in her car. Hannon v. Virginia__ Va. App. __ (Aug. 22, 2017). Although she won her appeal in the Virginia Court of Appeals, she first got convicted as a felon (a Class 6 felony) at a bench trial for such behavior — under Va. Code § 18.2-371.1(B) —  and received two one-year suspended jail sentences, according to the Henry County online court docket.

Hannon confirms that the reversal of her conviction is dictated by the Court of Appeals’s Coomer decision — which I reported on in April 2017 — referenced as below:

“It is beyond cavil that the child in Coomer [which reversed a reckless endangerment conviction] was exposed to a higher risk of injury than the children here. At oral argument, the Commonwealth, with credible candor, conceded that the child in Coomer was faced with a higher risk of injury than the children here.  Because the panel’s decision in Coomer is binding upon us, it dictates that we reverse appellant’s conviction. Butler v. Commonwealth, 64 Va. App. 7, 12, 763 S.E.2d 829, 832 (2014) (‘Under the interpanel accord doctrine, [a subsequent panel] lack[s] the authority to revisit” prior published opinions of the Court of Appeals.); Startin v. Commonwealth, 56 Va. App. 26, 39 n.3, 690 S.E.2d 310, 316  (2010) (en banc) (noting that published panel opinions of the Court of Appeals ‘bind all other three-judge panels under the interpanel accord doctrine’).”

Consequently, Hannon benefitted from the timing of having her appeal decided only after the beneficial April 2017 Coomer decision came out. The practical lessons learned here are (1) nothing merits leaving such young children unattended in a car, and (2) if one is charged with reckless endangerment of a child, the merely speculative risk of harm to the child is not enough by itself to obtain a conviction.