Susan L. Terrillion, 55, found herself under arrest in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware after she left her two children unattended for 45 minutes as she ran down the street to retrieve some take out food. She is now facing two counts of endangering the welfare of a child.
Terrillion, a Maryland resident, left her 9-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter alone at their Delaware vacation rental on Tuesday, August 16, 2016. After leaving, the family dog broke away into the street and a driver helped control the dog and learned that they were alone. The driver called police and then Terrillion returned.
First and foremost, I think it is remarkably stupid to leave to your children alone, particularly at a beach house at the height of vacation season with thousands of transient people and vacationers in the area. With four kids, I know that hassle of loading up kids for short trips but it pays to be risk averse in such cases.
However, there remains the question of whether this warrants two criminal charges.
According to this site, many states have no age limitation specified for being left alone. Some states like North Carolina have as low as 8 years old — making this conduct lawful in that state. Others set the age at 10 years old. The problem is that this is a law that is rarely enforced and most parents leave their kids unattended for short period while they work in the yard or step out to speak with neighbors or walk the dog. Notably, the common law has long applied a rule that views children in a case by case fashion since some children are more mature than others in development. Yet, the common law historically affords children a degree of protection by imposing presumptions that children of a certain age are either incapable of negligence or presumptively incapable of negligence. Above a certain age (which differs from state to state) a standard for children applies that allows the jury to judge the reasonableness of a child of similar “age, experience, intelligence and degree of development and capacity.” While stated as an objective standard, this is a departure from the standard for adults where courts generally do not consider the intelligence of the individual. This standard is often associated with the ruling in Charbonneau v. MacRury, 84 N. H. 501 (1931).
Under the so-called “Illinois Rule,” a child as old as seven can be treated as incapable of negligence.
Here you have two kids together — aged 8 and 9. I admit that I am a bit of over protective of the kids, even as they got older. I also do not blame the driver for calling police. I would find it hard to leave two children alone in such a circumstance. However, since this was a proven short run to get take out, is it necessary in your view to charge the parent?