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Appeals Court Clarifies What Constitutes PC Under Reckless Endangerment of A Child Statute

sunflower-child-1436893-300x200In Commonwealth v. Santos, a case of first impression, the Appeals Court reversed the dismissal of the complaint charging the defendant with reckless endangerment of a child under G.L. c.265, §13L, which was based on the defendant’s inadequate supervision of her daughter.

The application for a complaint alleged as follows. At 10:50 a.m. on a day in May, the police received “a report of a [three year old] female child found wandering alone in the playground” of an elementary school. The officer who was dispatched to the scene (Wood) “recalled that [several weeks earlier], school employees had reported finding the same child alone in the playground. Another officer had responded to that call, located the child’s mother (the defendant), and reunited her with the child.” When Wood arrived at the school, he “was directed to the nurse’s office where he saw the child. She was wearing a T-shirt and diaper and had bare feet, but was in good health with no cuts or abrasions…. Meanwhile, based on information from the [earlier] incident,” another officer (Donahue) was dispatched to an apartment located two-tenths of a mile from the school. “Though he rang the doorbell and pounded on the door repeatedly, he received no response.

After dispatch placed a telephone call to the apartment, the defendant came to the door…. It appeared to Donahue that the defendant had just awoken from sleeping and she was not alarmed, panicked, or crying. She also did not ask Donahue for help finding the child. Donahue asked the defendant if she knew where her daughter was, and she replied, “At the playground?” The defendant explained that she had set the child down in the living room to watch cartoons while she went to the upstairs bathroom for approximately ten to fifteen minutes to attend to “women problems.” When she came back down, the child was gone; the door to the apartment was open; and the key to the deadbolt had been inserted from the inside. The defendant said that she looked for the child for approximately ten minutes and then just assumed she was playing with a neighbor[’]s child. When Donahue asked why she did not call 911, the defendant replied, “That was my mistake.” Donahue drove the defendant to the school and reunited her with the child. The child’s father also arrived at the school…. [He] stated that after [the earlier] incident he installed a deadbolt on the apartment door and instructed family members to hang the key on a high hook in the kitchen. The defendant believed, however, that her teenage son may have instead left the key on the counter where the child could reach it.” The defendant was charged with reckless endangerment of a child under G.L. c.265, §13L. She filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, which the judge allowed for “lack of probable cause.” The Commonwealth appealed.

In its decision reinstating the complaint, the Appeals Court noted that “no reported Massachusetts decision has addressed whether, and in what circumstances, a caregiver’s inadequate supervision of a child can support a conviction” of reckless endangerment of a child. “Considering the totality of the circumstances here, [the Court] conclude[d] that the complaint established probable cause to believe that the defendant” had committed that offense. “Once the defendant realized that the child had wandered from the home, she had a duty to search for her, and evidence that she stopped searching and failed to enlist others to search was” “sufficient to establish probable cause that the defendant wantonly or recklessly fail[ed] to take reasonable steps to alleviate a substantial risk of serious bodily injury to the child. G.L. c.265, §13L.”

Charges of this type are serious and potentially have with severe consequences – including the possibility of losing custody of one’s child.  If you or a loved on is charged with reckless endangerment of a child or a related offense, it is of critical importance that you have an attorney who is extremely experienced with this type of criminal charge and who will provide you with the best defense possible.  Attorney Daniel Cappetta has successfully represented many clients charged with similar offenses.  Call him today for a free consultation.