Parents Beware: You May Be Responsible for Your Child’s Criminal Acts

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A legal precedent has been set in Michigan that is stirring up controversy across our nation. On April 9, 2024, the parents of a minor were convicted of involuntary manslaughter, facing up to fifteen years in prison for the criminal act of their son.

Jennifer and James Crumbley are the first parents in our nation to be convicted and sentenced for the tragic mass shooting perpetrated by their son. The crime occurred in 2021, when Ethan Crumbley, age 15, shot and killed four students at his Michigan High School. He was charged as an adult and pleaded guilty to 24 charges, including first-degree murder. In December 2023, he was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

The Blurred Line of Responsibility

While details of the tragic event included their son drawing a violent picture on the morning of the shooting and having access to a handgun, the parents were allegedly unaware that Ethan was struggling with his mental health. In fact, Mrs. Crumbley had taken him to a shooting range just days before the shooting. But could the parents have foreseen the potentially violent acts of their son? Should they be imprisoned for their lack of foresight?

Parental Responsibility Laws in Florida

Generally, parents can be held civilly responsible for their minor child’s actions, such as damages related to operating a vehicle or damages caused by vandalism or theft. Florida has a safe gun storage law that requires a loaded firearm to be secured if a child under the age of 16 can access it. If an adult responsible for the welfare of a child violates this law, they can be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor.

 Many parental liability claims are based on the legal theory of vicarious liability, which means that someone is held responsible for damages caused by another. The high-profile Ethan Crumbley case presents a significant escalation in holding parents accountable for crimes committed by their children.

Advocates of Parent Accountability

Supporters of criminally sanctioning parents for their minor child’s actions assert that it sends a strong message about responsible gun ownership and parental supervision. They feel parents will be more proactive in addressing behavioral issues if tougher laws exist, and it will deter school shootings and crime.

Addressing Factors Beyond a Parent’s Control

Critics of parental accountability argue there is the potential for injustice, leading to unfair punishment for parents who lack control due to external factors such as peer pressure and mental health issues. Additionally, families with challenges such as poverty or single-parent homes may be targeted. They may be unable to supervise their children closely due to work demands, lack of childcare access, or limited support services. 

State Senator is Leading the Way to Toughen Gun Laws

While nobody can predict the future, the Crumbley case may have significant implications for parental responsibility laws in every state in the nation. Florida’s tough-on-crime stance could influence lawmakers to expand the scope of parental liability in criminal law. Florida State Senator Linda Stewart is spearheading the push to toughen gun laws, calling for an upgraded misdemeanor and a felony for cases of a child accessing or using a gun. 

Aggressive Criminal Defense Trial Attorneys in Ocala and Gainesville, Florida

At The AP Law Group, we fiercely protect our clients and are committed to finding solutions in even the toughest circumstances. We represent minors and adults for all misdemeanor and felony crimes under state and federal laws. Should you or your child need criminal defense, contact our law firm to determine the best course of action. No matter how serious the allegation, we can help.

 Contact The AP Law Group at (352) 732-9191 for an appointment at our Ocala or Gainesville, Florida, office.