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Teen Mom Charged With Manslaughter After Her Dogs Kill Her Infant

In Crime, parenting on June 10, 2010 at 10:31 am
Sleep Like A Baby

Image by peasap via Flickr

This is the news story right now in Quebec, (in addition to the Grand Prix in Montreal), a terrible tale of a teen mom who stepped outside two days ago for a cigarette — to protect her newborn from second-hand smoke — in which time her two huskies attacked and killed the child. She lives in a small town about 40 miles east of Montreal.

She has already been charged with manslaughter by the Crown Attorney, (Canada’s version of a DA), prompting howls of outrage in the Gazette letters page and even an editorial in the Toronto-based, national Globe and Mail:

Parents who make mistakes are probably the norm, rather than an exception. Momentary lapses are common. Sometimes, babies and small children die as a result. They fall into hot tubs and drown. They wade out beyond their competence into lakes and drown. They fall off farm machinery. They are asphyxiated when sharing a bed with a parent. They fall out of windows.

It is rare that charges of manslaughter are laid in those deaths. Manslaughter requires a foreseeable risk of injury, and a marked departure from the standard of reasonable person. “The momentary lapse that a reasonable person would engage in is not meant to be caught by the criminal law,” says Sanjeev Anand, a law professor at the University of Alberta Law School. A marked departure implies gross negligence – “the absolutely egregious conduct that no reasonable person would engage in.”

There is some dispute about the facts…Her family says she was outside briefly; the police concluded after a short investigation (they charged her one day after the death) that she was outside for 20 minutes…

The state does not need to exact justice every time a child dies an accidental death, even where a parental lapse in judgment led to it. A grieving mother now needs to defend herself against a charge that her wrongful conduct killed her own baby. For a parent, the death of a baby is an excruciating punishment from which there is no parole. In the circumstances of this case, it is hard to see how laying a manslaughter charge serves the public interest.

Several of the letters in the Montreal Gazette raise the question of the mother’s age and likely low ncome — if she were 25 or 35, not 17 — would she have been charged, and so quickly?

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  1. Ah yes. It’s good to see our brand of thoughtless, knee-jerk authoritarianism-for-the-sake-of-authority has spread to our neighbor to the north. Good for them.

  2. The saddest thing in the world is when a baby dies, in my town a woman has just been arrested for smothering her infant son over the holiday weekend. And even in that case, there were extenuating circumstances involving the mother’s state of mind and her depression. In both of these cases, I find myself grieving for the babies and the mothers. They say that the law is justice without reason, but in cases like these I personally believe it is vital for the judiciary to apply reason in order to arrive at the least worst outcome. Should the teen mom in your story, who’s life has already be decimated, be subjected to additional punitive damages? Should the mom in my story, a woman already suicidal and grieving, be brought even lower?

    Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly cases where the laws that ostensibly designed to protect children should be vigorously applied. But justice cannot be applied without reason, and when a tragedy occurs we shouldn’t try to make up for it with more justice.

  3. It has happened here with a shocking degree of speed, given how slowly the wheels of justice turn in other cases. The first reports only came out two days ago at 3pm — and now she’s charged.

    It is terrifying to me that what appears to have been an error could result in prosecution. It’s no less devastating to a 17 year old (who, arguably) might have poorer judgment than to an older woman.

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