The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in the case of Commonwealth v. Hardy that failure to strap a child in properly to a car seat appropriate to the child’s age did not constitute involuntary manslaughter or reckless endangerment of a child, reversing the defendant’s conviction on those counts. One of the children that died in the accident was in the middle seat with an adult seat belt on, but not seat belted in as he should have under the law for his age.
What type of proof is necessary to convict someone of involuntary manslaughter?
The SJC emphasized that the crime of involuntary manslaughter requires the following elements of proof:
Involuntary manslaughter is an unintentional homicide caused by an act which constitutes wanton or reckless conduct. Wanton or reckless conduct involves a high degree of likelihood that substantial harm will result to another and depends on whether the defendant realized the risk of harm or if a reasonable person who knew what the defendant knew, would have realized such risk.
The Court explained that wanton or reckless conduct may be satisfied by either the commission of an intentional act or an intentional omission where there is a duty to act.
The SJC compared wanton and reckless conduct to negligence finding that grave danger to others must be apparent and the defendant must have chosen to run the risk rather than alter his conduct to avoid the act or omission that caused the harm.
Evidence need to convict for Reckless Endangerment of a Child
The SJC also addressed the standard of reckless endangerment of a child, a crime that was created by statute.
To prove reckless endangerment of a child, the Commonwealth must prove a child under 18 years old, a substantial risk of serious bodily injury or sexual abuse, and 3 that the defendant wanton and recklessly engaged in conduct that create a substantial risk or failed to take reasonable steps to alleviate the risk where a duty to act exists.
The Court distnished between the common law definition of wanton and reckless for involuntary manslughater and found that under reckless endangemrnmet of a child the defendant must be actually aware of the risk. Instead of relying an objective or subjective state of mind test
The SJC found that driving was not so inherent dangerous that the defendant would have realized the risk. The court rejected the Commonwealth argument that you could combine here negligence in driving.
This was a well reasoned decision by the SJC; clearly the case is very tragic and constitute negligence and a very serous mistake of judgment, but not enough to constitute involuntary manslaughter under the law.
Attorney Michael Delsignore is a criminal defense lawyer practicing throughout Massachusetts. Follow Attorney DelSignore on Twitter to stay up on current issues in criminal law.