CAN PARENTS GO TO PRISON FOR THE CRIMES OF THEIR CHILDREN?

On February 6, 2024, a Michigan jury found 45-year-old Jennifer Crumbley guilty of four counts of involuntary manslaughter. A little over a month later, James Crumbley, Ethan’s father, was found guilty of four counts of involuntary manslaughter. In 2021, her 15-year-old son, Ethan, fatally shot four classmates from Oxford High School with a semi-automatic handgun given to him by his parents. In December, the 15-year-old was sentenced to life in prison without parole after pleading guilty to four counts of first-degree murder.

These cases are significant for a couple different reasons. First, it set the precedent for whether and how parents of school shooters can be held accountable for their child’s actions. Generally speaking, a parent is not usually responsible for the unforeseeable actions of their child; however, what about foreseeable situations?

In these cases, there was evidence that the Crumbley’s should have foreseen that their son could possibly exhibit violent behavior. For example, the parents were called to the school and asked to remove their son from the school for the day after a teacher discovered his violent drawings the morning of the shooting. The parents chose to leave him at the school so he would not be alone while they returned to work. However, they left with the promise of getting their son mental health help. Further, Ethan’s parents were the ones who bought Ethan the handgun and failed to secure it properly. The gun was placed in a case in an armoire while the bullets were hidden under some jeans. The cable lock it came with was still in the packaging and no other locking mechanism was used. Jennifer Crumbley even took her son to the shooting range where he learned how to fire the gun.

What does this mean going forward? This court has now made it possible for parents to be held responsible for the violent actions of their children depending on the foreseeability. The prosecutor at James Crumbley’s trial stated he was not on trial for his son’s actions, but for what he did and did not do. More specifically, parents can be held accountable for school shootings if there is evidence that their child’s actions were foreseeable given the circumstances. The decision ultimately came down to the parents giving their son the gun, letting him practice using it, and failing to secure it properly despite knowing he suffered from mental health problems. Nevertheless, these cases should still be rare occurrences only arising in especially egregious situations.

If you have a legal question regarding a criminal matter, contact Columbus, Ohio criminal defense lawyer, Joe Edwards at (614) 309-0243. Attorney Edwards has over 25 years of experience representing individuals at the state and federal levels.

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