Michael Tabman

Baby Lisa: Why No Arrests?

In Crime and Security, Uncategorized on December 7, 2011 at 11:32 pm

Today on Twitter, two questions were raised about the potential criminal culpability of Baby Lisa’s mom, Deborah Bradley. The first was whether her failure to cooperate would subject her to charges of impeding/obstructing prosecution. The second was whether her getting drunk and passing out constituted child neglect.

When the Casey Anthony trial was in the news, many people were appalled by her acquittal. They were convinced of her guilt. As I discussed in numerous blogs, a criminal conviction must be based on evidence presented in accordance with criminal procedure and other applicable laws that convinces a jury – beyond a reasonable doubt – of guilt. The prosecution did not achieve that goal and Casey Anthony was released. I said then, as I say now, be grateful that we have a system that guarantees all of us rights and protections and places the burden of proof on the government.

I want Deborah to speak to the police without setting any conditions. That is highly unlikely. She cannot be forced to do so – that is the law. So, does Deborah’s refusal to cooperate constitute a charge of Hindering Prosecution as written in the Missouri Revised Statutes? It does not.

The statute defines specific actions that must be taken to commit hindering prosecution. Silence and inaction do not appear to qualify. Deborah is clearly a suspect, irrespective of what the police say publicly. She is represented by an attorney and she is exercising her constitutional rights. We don’t like it. It is contrary to our sense of parenthood. It is contrary to our sense of decency. It may even be contrary to one’s common sense. But, it is the law. We may opine that the law should not apply in this particular case. Our system of justice does not allow for such exceptions, nor should it. Once we have exceptions based on emotions and opinions, we no longer have a system of justice.

The next question was whether Deborah could be arrested for child neglect and/or endangerment. Did passing out from drinking while children were in her care and custody constitute a crime? The answer to this question is less clear than the previous one. Drinking and passing out while watching young children is clearly irresponsible, dangerous and un-parent like. But is it criminal? Criminality is defined by the state in which the offense occurred. No other state law matters.

In reading the applicable Missouri state law, I do not think such a charge would succeed. While those actions should be scrutinized by the appropriate child welfare agency, criminality is another issue. First, Deborah’s statement and even those of neighbors who drank with her are probably insufficient to prove “intoxication.” A blood alcohol content test would have been proof. The next question would be whether Deborah could have reasonably expected her drinking to result in the kidnapping of Baby Lisa from her crib. That would be quite a legal leap. And without knowing Baby Lisa’s status or fate, any charges would be hard to prove.

The suspicion and wrath of the public has been brought on by Deborah’s own actions and inactions. As sad and disturbing as this case is, we can dislike, hate, disparage, accuse, argue and invoke common sense. Yet none of that constitutes evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. Be grateful for that.

The police have not given up. They may have information or a plan to which we are not privy. This may not be over…


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