In a very sad story, a 20-year-old Allegheny County man was driving under the influence when he struck and killed a 6-year-old girl that had been standing in her driveway. A tragic story all around. A 6-year-old struck down as her life was just getting started. While the young girl is the innocent victim, one must also consider that the 20-year-old must live with the memory that he took the life of another. Having such memories will haunt him for the rest of his life. He will have plenty of time to reflect on his actions as a conviction of Homicide by Vehicle While DUI would result in a relatively lengthy prison sentence being imposed. Upon his release, when he completes employment applications, he will also report that he is a convicted felon, and he will have to explain that his poor decision to drink and drive as a 20-year-old caused him to take the life of another. Imagine this young man is 40 years old and has a 6-year-old daughter that wants her father to coach soccer or attend a school field trip as a chaperone. The father will be reminded that his prior criminal history prevents him passing a background clearance check to participate in such activities, and when he looks at his daughter, he will be reminded of the life that he took. Again, this is just a tragic story all around, and a story that requires prayers for all those involved.
Criminal Liability for Furnishing Alcohol to a Minor
According to online newspaper articles, after the young man was taken into custody, he told investigators that he had been drinking beer and smoking marijuana at his mother's house. As a criminal defense attorney, I started to ponder what, if any, charges the mother could face. Corruption of Minors? Endangering the Welfare of a Child? Furnishing Alcohol to Minors? First, it must be emphasized that the young man says that he was drinking at his mother's house, but the allegations are not that the mother provided the alcohol. Corruption of Minors is not applicable because a "minor" under that law must be under 18, so the mother could not corrupt the morals of her 20-year old son. Similarly, a charge of Endangering the Welfare of a Child is not applicable because it applies to a person supervising the welfare of a child that is under 18.
The charge of Furnishing Alcohol to a Minor could be a different story. To most people, the word "furnish" means to give or provide. One would assume that because the mother did not give or provide the alcohol that she could not be charge with the misdemeanor offense of Furnishing. Yet another example of why people should not assume that the law makes sense. The Pennsylvania legislature wrote a broader definition of "furnish" in the law. "Furnish" is defined in section 6310.6 of the Crimes Code as to "allow a minor to possess on premises or property owned or controlled by the person charged." Clearly, the mother knew that her son was under 21, was drinking alcohol on her property, and thereby could be charged with Furnishing Alcohol to a Minor under 18 Pa.C.S.A. 6310.1.
In the case of Commonwealth McCloskey 835 A.2d 801 (Pa. Super. 2003), the Superior Court of Pennsylvania ruled that a woman who allowed underage drinking to occur at her house could be charged with Involuntary Manslaughter in an analogous situation. In the McCloskey case, a mother was alleged to have allowed underage drinking at her house. Four party goers left in one vehicle. The driver wrecked the vehicle, and three of the four kids were killed. The woman was convicted of three counts of Involuntary Manslaughter, and she appealed the convictions. Her argument on appeal was that her actions were not "reckless" under the law, so her convictions must be overturned. Reckless is defined as "consciously disregard[ing] a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the material element exists or will result from his conduct." The Superior Court rejected the woman's argument, ruled that her conduct of allowing kids to drink underage at her home was reckless and that her reckless behavior was the cause of the accident. Based upon the McCloskey case, the mother in this case could be facing an Involuntary Manslaughter charge. We have to wait and see what the Allegheny County prosecutors do with this case.