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State v. Akers

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Brief Fact Summary. The State sought to impose vicarious criminal liability on the parents of minors who drove snowmobiles in violation of state a statute.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. Any attempt to impose liability on the parents simply because they are parents without more, violates the due process clause of the state constitution.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

It is well settled in this jurisdiction that the Legislature may declare criminal a certain act or omission to act without requiring it to be done with intent.

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Facts. The Defendants, Akers and others (Defendants), are fathers of children who drove snowmobiles in violation of statute. The State charged the Defendants with vicarious criminal responsibility for the actions of their children.

Issue. Whether parents of minors can be held criminally accountable for their children’s offenses on the basis of their parental status.

Held. Parents cannot be held criminally responsible vicariously for the offenses of their children.
The legislature has not specified any acts/omissions that would make a parent vicariously responsible for the acts of their children. Acts or omissions, which are to be the basis of criminal liability, must be specified in advance.

Any attempt to impose liability on parents, simply because they are parents without more, violates the due process clause of the state constitution and punishes parenthood, which is contrary to public policy.

Dissent. The Dissent focused on the argument that the parents could be viewed as negligently allowing the children to operate the snowmobile, which could be sufficient to impose vicarious criminal responsibility. The Dissent noted that there is a public interest in promoting the safe operation of snowmobiles.

Discussion. The court started by reviewing the statute and determining that there was no specific language imposing vicarious liability on the Defendants. To impose liability on the parents, the court ruled, the state legislature must be specific in the acts/omissions that would impose the liability. Because no specificity in this statute was found, no liability could be imposed.

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