Thursday, September 06, 2007

"As appalling as it sounds, in Ohio a mistake is not a crime"

This is what I heard this morning from a reporter on the Today show regarding an Ohio mother who left her 2 year old child in the car for 8 hours, and found her dead at the end of the day.

The mother went to buy doughnuts and thought she had dropped her daughter off. She went to her job as an assistant principal, and came out to her car at the end of the day to find her child dead in 150 degree heat inside her car.

So I hear this, and get a deep pain in my stomach. I have 2 young children. I can't imagine. How dreadful. This mom, who has a reputation of being a good person, left her kid in the car and now she's dead.

In Ohio, a prosecution for this only occurs if there is "recklessness," not just "negligence." So as the reporter said, "In Ohio, a mistake is not a crime."

But that's appalling to some. In fact, there is outrage in Ohio that this mom is not going to jail. The child welfare office is investigating whether she is fit to take care of her 5 year old.

Guess who's speaking out in her defense? The prosecutor who decided he could not prosecute.

But there's outrage. Why? Because we live in a society where we've been conditioned that every human failure should require jail. It makes me sick. Every single time there's a mere car accident reported on the news, the story ends with "no word on whether the driver will face charges," or "charges are pending." Pending what? Your next report? Charges aren't pending until they're filed. The fact that a police officer was called to the scene doesn't mean "charges are pending."

My thoughts here are not really about the media though. They're about those in Ohio, and maybe around the country who are "appalled" that this mother won't be charged.

Let me ask you something? You think she cares? You think she needs to "learn a lesson?" How about a judge or jury telling her she's "guilty?" Maybe she needs someone or some body of people to advise her that she is "guilty" for leaving her baby in the car. Maybe the system should teach her to "never leave her 2 year old in the car by mistake again."

Maybe, as the prosecutor said this morning, the fact that she will have to live everyday of her life knowing she did this," isn't enough for you.

Put yourself in her shoes, if you can stomach the thought.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense attorney in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court. To learn more about Brian and his firm, Tannebaum Weiss, please visit