Child's death sparks debate

Both Boston papers, the Herald and the Glob, had accounts of a truly horrifying, yet all-too-common, story out of Fall River, Massachusetts. A mother drove herself to work and went in, forgetting to drop her one-year-old daughter off at day care. When the girl was discovered missing, the mother ran out to her car, but it was too late — the girl had suffocated in the daytime heat within her SUV.

It’s a horrible story, but it raises a truly difficult question: should the mother face criminal charges for her daughter’s death?

On the one hand, it’s a no-brainer. While Massachusetts doesn’t have a “negligent homicide” statute on the books, child neglect charges certainly would cover the bill. Forgetting that one’s child is strapped into the back seat of your car and leaving them in the sun for hours on end certainly ought to qualify. On the facts, it’s a slam-dunk.

On the other hand, there’s the “piling on” element. This mother has just lost her daughter. She has to live with the knowledge that she is responsible for her daughter’s death for the rest of her life. Any penalty the state could impose on her pales in comparison to that.

I am quite torn about this, but I think I tentatively come down on the side of pressing the charges. A child has died needlessly, and justice must be served. If a jury should choose to not convict, that’s their prerogative. And, perhaps, it might give the mother some solace, to serve her “penance” at the hands of the state.

But it’s a hell of a tough call. I don’t envy the prosecutor who has to decide this one.

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