This past week, the parents of a child who is charged with four counts of murder in a school shooting, were arrested for involuntary manslaughter under Michigan state law.
How legitimate is this charge and why is the prosecutor pursuing it? The prosecutor in Michigan is alleging that the parents (Crumbleys) violated Michigan law and committed involuntary manslaughter because they allegedly created a situation where the risk of great bodily harm or death was very high, knowing that as a result of their actions, they knew that serious harm or death would likely result. Under Michigan law, the involuntary manslaughter charge filed against the parents can be pursued if authorities believe the parents contributed to a situation where there was a high chance of harm or death (source).
The prosecutor is trying to use the following facts to support manslaughter:
- the parents bought a gun for the boy days before
- that the boy made drawings of a gun and blood,
- the school brought the drawings to their attention and the parents “resisted the idea of their son leaving the school at that time”
The question that a Michigan jury will have to decide is whether or not these facts contributed to a situation where there could be death. At first glance, it may be seem like the parents obviously contributed to the son shooting the other kids. However, the defense will likely present facts to show their son had no history of school disciplinary issues, that he was a good student, and no issues of criminal activity. The defense will likely portray that his murderous thoughts were just recent thoughts and not ongoing, nor was there any reason to believe he would act out on these thoughts.
Many young males have fascinations with guns and violence. Some would say it is part of growing into a man. The only people that can understand this seem to be other males and parents of males. The defense may argue that it is normal behavior for a young male to create drawings of guns and shootings. Imagine if every child that made a drawing of a gun was disciplined and told he was bad and a murderer-to-be?
In the trial, the jury will hear persuasive arguments from both sides. However, at the end of the day, they will have to ask themselves if the act of the parents buying the gun contributed to the shooting. But, really, the question should be “did the buying of the gun contribute to the shooting in a way that was reasonably foreseeable that a shooting would occur?” Because many of the parent’s previous acts could’ve contributed to the shooting. For instance, the fact that they enrolled him in school, the fact that they gave him food and water, the fact that they birthed him could all be acts that contributed to him shooting those kids. If they didn’t commit those acts, the shootings wouldn’t have occurred. Therefore, the prosecution may need to be able to do more than show that had the parents not bought the weapon, the shooting wouldn’t have happened. This fact alone may not be sufficient to prove manslaughter.
If this happened in Louisiana, would the parents get charged with manslaughter?
The Louisiana law regarding manslaughter is much different than Michigan. The Louisiana manslaughter statute found in La. RS 14:31 includes the pertinent provision that states “manslaughter is a homicide committed, without any intent to cause death or great bodily harm when the offender is engaged in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of any felony not enumerated in Article 30 or 30.1, or of any intentional misdemeanor directly affecting the person.” There are other provisions in the statute, however, this is the most relevant to these facts.
Under this provision, the parents must be engaged in any felony or a misdemeanor that directly affects a person, such as a battery. The misdemeanor manslaughter provision is really applied in situations where a defendant punches the victim and the victim dies, usually from hitting his head on the concrete. The felony manslaughter provision is used in a myriad cases when the defendant is committing a non-violent crime and the victim dies. This is the only provision that might be applied in Louisiana to try to pin the parents with manslaughter.
For example, if the prosecution would have to prove that the parents were committing a felony crime regarding the purchase of the weapon. Although it is legal in Louisiana for a child to possess a firearm under the age of 18 under certain circumstances which include possessing the gun at home with the parent’s permission (La RS 14:95.8(6)), it is not legal to purchase a gun for someone else. It is a violation of federal law to subterfuge the weapon purchasing process to get the gun in the hands of someone that cannot possess it. However, it would be legal possession in this case. So, this argument probably wouldn’t work for the prosecution.
It doesn’t seem likely that the Crumbleys would get charged with manslaughter in Louisiana under the reported facts. This is a perfect example of how laws vary from state to state and the significance of that variation.
Could the parents get charged with any crime in Louisiana?
If the Crumbley facts occurred in Louisiana, a prosecutor likely couldn’t bring manslaughter charges against the parents, but could possibly bring murder charges against them. Murder in Louisiana is the killing of a human being when the offender has a specific intent to kill or inflict great bodily harm. The Louisiana prosecutor’s theory of the case would be that by the parents buying the gun for the child, along with their knowledge of his mental issues and unwillingness to remove him from school, demonstrated the parent’s intent to kill because they knew he would commit murder. Therefore, the parents were committing conspiracy to commit murder and/or acted as principals to murder. Murder is punishable with life in prison without parole.
This may become a landmark case in U.S. history. Let’s step away from courtroom legal mumbo jumbo and consider the big picture of what is going on here. The bottom line is that if the child didn’t have the gun, he may not have shot the kids. How responsible are the parents for supplying him with the gun? This criminal case is really a gun rights case. It could be the first of many prosecutions to come in all states, not just Michigan. If parents start serving prison time for their child’s crimes because the parents allowed him access to a gun, would that change things in our country?