As parents, your job is to raise happy, healthy children. Your job is also to protect them from doing things that are against their own best interests, and from coming to harm.
Children suffer the consequences of accidents every day, and some have a very tragic ending. If your child is injured in your care, or if the worst comes to pass and your child dies, the police and social services may become involved. Their job is to determine if your child was the victim of murder or homicide, and their presence can and will add undue stress.
Unintentional child deaths more common than you think
The unintentional death of a child can lead to serious repercussions for a parent or parents:
- The father of a six-year-old boy was charged with, and pled guilty to, a third-degree felony after his son found his grandmother's loaded gun in a cabinet and accidentally shot and killed himself. The grandmother who left the gun unsecured was never charged.
- A father was convicted of murder because he left his 22-month-old son in a hot car, and the child succumbed to the heat. Prosecutors claimed the father intentionally left his son in the car in an attempt to “rid himself of parental responsibility.”
- An employee of Embassy Suites in Columbia just recently lost her four-year-old child who fell over the seventh floor balcony to her death. State law mandates an investigation into these horrific incidents.
The degree of fault in each of these cases, and in cases like these, can vary: there is a significant difference between the child who gets hold of a loaded weapon in a relative's home and a father who leaves his son in a hot car for eight hours. How the accused's behavior contributes to the demise of the child can be the difference between going free with your reputation restored, or going to prison for infanticide.
For example, say a father is driving his son to daycare and the vehicle is hit by a speeding truck. The father's actions and behaviors did not contribute to the death of the child, and the police report (and an attorney) will show how this was just a tragic accident. However, a father who is drunk when he gets behind the wheel, falls asleep, and plows into a truck, leading to the death of the child in the backseat, can be held accountable for the unintentional death of the child because his actions and behaviors are directly linked to the fatal crash.
What charges could you face in South Carolina if a child dies in your care?
Should a child die in your care, you could face the charge of involuntary manslaughter in South Carolina. Under SC Code § 16-3-60, involuntary manslaughter and negligence are defined as the following:
With regard to the crime of involuntary manslaughter, criminal negligence is defined as the reckless disregard of the safety of others. A person charged with the crime of involuntary manslaughter may be convicted only upon a showing of criminal negligence as defined in this section. A person convicted of involuntary manslaughter must be imprisoned not more than five years.
It is important to note that you will likely face multiple charges if a child dies in your care, not just involuntary manslaughter. In relation to the example above of a father driving drunk, that father would likely face felony DUI charges, reckless driving, endangering the welfare of a child, and others. You might also face criminal charges resulting from any of the following:
- Maintaining open and unprotected abandoned wells
- Failing to remove doors from abandoned airtight containers
- Use or employment of person under 18 to commit certain crimes
- Death or injury of child in utero due to commission of violent crime
All of this is a best case scenario. If law enforcement concludes the death was not an accidental tragedy, a parent could also face charges for murder, manslaughter, or homicide by child abuse, and/or infliction or allowing infliction of great bodily injury upon a child. If a child has a fatal allergic reaction to a food or drug or ingests a toxic chemical, you could potentially face administering or attempting to administer poison or tampering with human drug product or food item.
Should I hire a criminal defense attorney if a child dies in my care?
Yes – you absolutely should. If your child dies while in your care, whether you were behaving in a negligent way or not, it is almost guaranteed that you will be placed under a cloud of suspicion.
What the investigation will be like
The natural urge to explain yourself over and over again may actually end up contributing to those suspicions and harm your case in the long run. It is critical that you hire an attorney as soon as possible to ensure that you are protected under the law. Don't say anything to anyone without us there – ever.
An investigation into the incident will happen automatically. For example, if you need to go to the bathroom while home and a child you care for chokes on a toy. You leave the bathroom, notice the child's face is blue, and call 9-1-1. Even though you did everything right, the child does not survive.
Even if DSS agents and law enforcement believe that this was a tragic accident, an investigation will still occur. These entities are required to examine every possible reason why the accident occurred. The agents will take a deep look at your entire life, including the story you told, how you reacted, and if you have exhibited any guilt. Every trip to the doctor with your child will be reviewed. Your social media will be reviewed. Your friends, family, and employers may be interviewed. You may be questioned repeatedly by different state and local agencies.
What you stand to lose if convicted
Aside from the potential prison time and fines, you could face other losses such as:
- The removal of other children from your home by DSS
- Loss of custody or visitation rights
- Loss of employment opportunities, even if you have not been convicted of a crime
- Loss of certain rights, including the right to vote, carry a firearm, or apply for government benefits
- Loss of professional license and/or security clearances
- Loss of educational opportunities
- Loss of reputation
No parent should talk with any official agency, including law enforcement, without a criminal defense attorney there to protect you if your child has succumbed to an accidental or unintentional death. You should be presumed innocent, but investigations related to these tragedies can take a quick turn toward viewing you as a suspect.
A quick note for business owners
Business owners can face charges if a child dies unintentionally while on their property. Schools, daycares, trampoline parks, and other businesses that children frequent could face civil liability, and even lose your professional license. Individual members of staff as well as the business itself could be held criminally liable as well.
If your child has been seriously injured or died as a result of a horrific accident that is under investigation in York, Lancaster, or Chester County, don't let yourself become the target of criminal charges. You need an aggressive homicide defense attorney from Holland Law LLC. Please call us today or fill out the contact form to schedule a consultation. We maintain offices in Fort Mill and Rock Hill.