How Old Does a Child Need to be Before They Are Left Alone (or Trick-or-Treat)?

  • Most state laws are unclear how old your child needs to be before they can be left alone

A few months ago, Florida mom Nicole Gainey was arrested for child neglect. Her offense: letting her seven-year-old walk a half-mile to the park by himself. The arresting officer noted that there were several convicted sex offenders living in the area. However, in Florida, most sex offenders are prohibited by law from living within 1,000 feet of a park. A search of Florida’s sex offender registry list only one registered offender within a half-mile of the park, in the other direction. That man is not designated as a predator and his offense occurred way back in 1993.

Nicole Gainey and her Son

Nicole Gainey and her Son

Additionally, it was during daytime hours, and Ms. Gainey had given her son a cell phone, that she would call to check up on him. Also, she trained him well, because when he was approached by a concerned citizen at the pool, he became concerned and went ran away. Mom had just checked in with him a few moments before police arrived.

There is no clear law in Florida about how old a child has to be before they are allowed to go to the park alone, or be left home alone, or anything like that. Indeed, most states don’t have such laws, and those that do, vary greatly from state to state, from 6 to 14. That leaves the law open to interpretation: legal a prosecutor could file charges if they felt there was a risk to the child that amounts to neglect. Conversely, it will be hard to win a conviction, as many people on the jury are likely to say, “Shoot, my mom left me home sometimes… and I don’t think she should have gone to jail.”

Arguably, the law leaves a lot of discretion to parents to determine when their children are mature enough to stay alone, and for how long. Parents probably should not be prosecuted, except in cases of clear risk to the children. And an officer should not immediately make a felony arrest in such a situation, he should first refer it to the Dept. of Children and Families for further investigation by specialists to determine if charges are warranted. Unlike a theft or a DUI, this is probably not a judgment call an officer should be making on his own in the field without having a child-care professional weigh in.

This doesn’t tell us how old a child must be to go, say, trick-or-treating by himself or herself (or with friends). The rule of thumb should be to use common sense. The realty of our risk-averse law enforcement system is that a nervous cop could jump the gun and make an unwarranted arrest: so you are better safe than sorry and ought make sure the kids have a chaperon tomorrow night.

The case did end well for Ms. Gainey, the Port St. Lucie Clerk’s records indicate the charges were dropped by prosecutors. That does not spare Ms. Gainey the expense of posting a bond and seeking legal representation, not to mention the degradation of being booked into jail for child neglect and having her name dragged through the mud. For anyone who is arrested for such a charge, seek representation right away, so you can have an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side to convince prosecutors charges are not warranted.

from latchkey-kids.com via http://lifehacker.com/the-age-kids-have-to-be-before-you-can-legally-leave-th-1652321850?utm_source=recirculation&utm_medium=recirculation&utm_campaign=wednesdayPM

 

Board Certified Criminal Trial Attorney Spencer Cordell

Debra LaFave Is Getting Off Probation

DOC photo of Debra LaFave

DOC photo of Debra LaFave

You may remember the story of Debra LaFave, the Tampa area teacher who got busted for sexual relations with a 14-year-old boy. She made a lot of headlines in part for being awfully attractive. Even her probation photos look good. She ultimately pled out to a couple of counts, convicted as a sex offender, and was sentenced to 10 years of supervision: 3 years of Community Control followed by 7 years of sex offender probation.

In her plea deal, she had stipulated that she would not apply for early termination of her probation. Yet, with several years remaining, she filed a motion to ask the judge to terminate her supervision early. In spite of the stipulation, the judge agreed to terminate her, and the state appealed.

Debra LaFave, via DOC

Debra LaFave, via DOC

The Second District Court of Appeals overturned the judge’s order, but certified the question to the Supreme Court of Florida: which means they asked the Supreme Court to review it. The Supreme Court overturned that decision, 5-2, in an opinion released yesterday. The Court’s reasoning relied on jurisdiction: basically that the State does not have the right to ask for a review of a judge’s decision to terminate probation. While it seems incongruous to allow an early termination when it has been bargained away, that is not inconsistent with case law that that grants great deference to judges on how to handle probationers in front of them. The will end Ms. LaFave’s legal case, but she will still be required to report as a sex-offender for many years.

Florida Supreme Court Opinion: http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2014/sc12-2232.pdf

Loud Music Shooter Michael Dunn Convicted, Sentenced to Life in Prison

The second jury came back and found Michael Dunn guilty of first degree murder. Michael Dunn, known as the Loud Music Shooter, for because his complaints about the victims playing music too loudly precipitated his shooting of a car full of teenagers. Dunn and Jordan Davis, the 17-year-old he shot, apparently exchanged heated words at a gas station when Dunn pulled out a firearm and began firing. He killed Davis and was charged with first degree murder, and attempted murder for the other three individuals in the car with Davis.

Michael Dunn mug shot

Michael Dunn mug shot

Dunn argued self-defense at trial, saying he thought Davis had a weapon. No weapon was recovered, and Dunn, instead of calling law enforcement, continued on his trip to another city where he stayed in a hotel room. The jury hung on the first degree murder count in the first trial, but convicted him of three counts of attempted murder, which he was sentenced to 20 years each, consecutively, as required by 10/20/Life. The second jury found him guilty at the retrial, and the first degree murder charge mandates a sentence of life in prison without parole under Florida law.

Dunn will assuredly appeal, but it will be difficult to overturn, as the appellate courts do not usually like to disturb a jury’s findings about the credibility of a justifiable use of force defense. All areas of the trial will be examined to determine if there are errors that warrant a new trial.

http://crimcourts.wordpress.com/tag/michael-dunn/

Buzzfeed Collected Some More Amazing Mug Shots

cops show up mugWe’ve seen some of them before on Crimcourts, but there are a few new ones here that warrant a giggle, from Buzzfeed.

http://www.buzzfeed.com/briangalindo/26-people-who-instantly-regretted-being-arrested-in-ironic-t#2er01jv

Are Police Officers Incentivized to Lie?

This opinion article in the New York Times suggests that they are. Even if there is not direct inducement, there are no ramifications for officers if they lie, and the system encourages numbers and, as we’ve discussed recently on Crimcourts, forfeitures of property. The system is set up to encourage arrests, and not as the old adage implies, to protect and serve. While I don’t think the majority of cops are liars, you see it with some frequency in a criminal practice. It’s not just drug cases, but even little things like traffic tickets. And misjudged priorities and a lack of accountability can compound the problem. Again, more cameras will help demonstrate the truth and be better for everybody.

Tracie Hunter Found Guilty on One Count: Jury Hung on Other 8 Counts

Judge Tracie Hunter

Convicted Judge Tracie Hunter

The jury in the trial of Judge Tracie Hunter has found her guilty on one count, but could not reach a unanimous verdict on the other counts, resulting in a hung jury. The count she was found guilty of was for Having an Unlawful Interest in a Public Contract: essentially for getting public employees to get restricted documents to help her brother, a juvenile court employee who was facing termination from his job. The charge is a felony, which means Hunter is suspended without pay, and will effectively cause her to be removed from the bench, pending the appeal in the case. The charge carries a presumption of probation, but she could be facing up to 18 months in prison.

The hung jury on the other counts means that she could be tried again. That decision will probably be announced by prosecutors some time in the future. Obviously she will appeal the conviction, which will take some time: sentencing on the guilty count is set for Dec. 2.

For more coverage, see Cincinnati.com’s @KimballPerry