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Commonwealth v. Howard

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Howard (defendant) was charged and convicted of involuntary manslaughter after her daughter fell, hit her head, and died, stemming from beatings by her mother’s boyfriend, Watts.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    A parent who fails to protect their child from a known and substantial risk of harm, and the harm is the direct cause of the child’s death, is guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

    Facts.

    Howard and her 5 year old daughter lived with her mother’s boyfriend, Watts. While living with him, Watts would continuously beat the child, sometimes beating her with a belt strap and torturing her. While all of this went on, Howard failed to report any of the incidents to authorities. During one of the beatings the child fell and hit her head, which ultimately caused her death. Howard was charged and convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

    Issue.

    Whether Howard can be convicted of involuntary manslaughter by not protecting her daughter from a known and substantial risk of harm, which was ultimately the direct cause of the child’s death?

    Held.

    Yes, a defendant’s failure to act when there is a known and substantial risk of harm, which is the direct cause of the victim’s death, can give way to criminal culpability.

    Discussion.

    A defendant’s failure to act when there is a known and substantial risk of harm, which is the cause of the victim’s death, can give way to criminal culpability, especially in situations where there is a special relationship, such as mother/daughter. The special relationship creates a duty to act on the part of the parent and to protect their child from the known and substantial harm. Here, Howard and her daughter were in a special relationship, which creates a duty on her part to act. Howard failed to report any of the beatings to the police and had blatant disregard for the physical abuse being inflicted by Watts. Howard failed to protect her daughter from the known and substantial risk of harm while have full knowledge of it, despite the legal duty to act.


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