The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court will decide whether the failure to secure a child properly in a car seat can result in an involuntary manslaughter conviction. The case is Commonwealth v. Hardy, where the defendant Hardy was convicted by a jury of involuntary manslaughter. On appeal, Hardy argues that her failure to secure her child in a booster seat is a legally insufficient basis for her conviction as to manslaughter and reckless endangerment of a child. A manslaughter conviction requires the Commonwealth to prove, “the defendant unintentionally caused another’s death during the commission of wanton or reckless conduct,” and said conduct, “created a high degree of likelihood that substantial harm would result to the victim.”
Similarly, a conviction for reckless endangerment of a child requires the Commonwealth to show the defendant recklessly engaged in conduct that caused substantial risk of serious bodily injury to a child… or wantonly or recklessly failed to take reasonable steps to alleviate such risk when there was a duty to act. G.L. c. 265, §13L.
Was Hardy’s conduct, failing to secure Dylan in a booster seat, wanton or reckless? Was Hardy aware that her failure to use the booster seat created a high degree of likelihood that substantial harm would befall Dylan? Courts have defined recklessness as conduct involving a grave risk of harm to another that a person undertakes with indifference to or disregard of the consequences. Commonwealth v. Welansky, 316 Mass. 383, 399 (1944). Hardy submits her act of merely using the seatbelt and not the booster did not rise to the requisite level of wanton or reckless conduct. She further alleges that the Commonwealth provided no evidence as to whether Dylan may have survived the crash if a booster seat had been utilized. In her brief, Hardy argues that at most, the Commonwealth is alleging her conduct was merely negligent and as a matter of law, a legally insufficient basis for the conviction of manslaughter. She further asserts that an individual who fails to secure a child in a vehicle at all might engage in wanton or reckless conduct, but she took steps to mitigate, the inherent risk associated with any passenger in a vehicle by making sure Dylan was at least wearing a seatbelt.