Let’s start Our Monday Blog with coffee…as it should be started. Our Coffee Time!
And a laugh
Today I am going to really write a legal blog. I know…it’s crazy! Let’s start with the story of the case.
The case is Gibbs v. Commonwealth, a Chesterfield Circuit Court Case.
It was the afternoon of February 22,2016. Gregory Gentry worked maintenance at the Clairmont Apartments in Chesterfield. He noticed a “little boy wearing no jacket, a T-shirt, some pants and shoes without socks” wandering outside the complex. Gentry said it was very cold, causing him to wear a sweatshirt and jacket.
He and his supervisor followed the boy (later determined to be five-years-old) as he crossed through the privacy fence of the complex, through the gate and up past the local Costco. Then, into the gas station parking lot next to the busy street.
They caught up to the boy and found out that his father was Dr. John Gibbs, who had gone to work at the hospital. The boy said that his father had told him to walk up there and meet him at the hospital. He refused to tell them his name, but said that he was thirteen-years-old.
They managed to convince the boy to return to his apartment by offering a ride on Gentry’s shoulders. There, they called the police and waited for the father (doctor) to return.
About 40 minutes later, the police arrived. Eventually Dr. Gibbs also arrived. Upon learning that his son had been wandering outside alone, Gibbs offered no thank you for bringing his son back. The only thing that Dr. Gibbs uttered was that his son was a liar for claiming that he was thirteen.
He also told the officers that his son was lying about being told to come up to the hospital. He had been instructed to stay home, because he had been suspended from school.
Gibbs was charged with… and then convicted of felony child neglect for leaving his kindergartner home alone . He appealed the conviction.
Judge Randolph A. Beales wrote the opinion on behalf of the Virginia Court of Appeals. The Court found that Dr. Gibbs acted with reckless disregard for the life and safety of his child by leaving his child alone for over an hour while he drove to a prearranged meeting.
In fact, it was noted that the child had wandered away only a month earlier, in similar circumstances. That time, the father had left the son with his older brother. The court said that this should have also alerted him that the child would wander off.
The real question to legally answer is “when is it legally acceptable to leave your child home alone?”
The Court applied six factors previously described in the case of Barnes v. Commonwealth, 47 Va. App. 105 (2005),
The first factor: the gravity and character of the possible harm.
The Court said that there was potential harm likely to occur, when the child left the apartment alone and ventured across the street, to the parking lot of the Costco and gas station.
The second factor: the degree of accessibility of the parent.
The Court noted that the record of the trial shows that Gibbs made himself completely inaccessible to his son. He was unable to see or hear him if the child needed assistance. The Court also noted that it appeared that the child truly believed that Gibbs was working at the hospital and that he was supposed to meet him there.
The third factor: the length of time of the abandonment.
The Judge noted that although there is no rule regarding how long a child may be left alone before a parent may be considered criminally negligent, Dr. Gibbs left his son alone for longer period of time, than in prior cases where this court held that the evidence was insufficient to support a conviction.
The fourth factor: The child’s age and immaturity.
The Court notes that the child was already suspended from school at the time of the incident. His prior behavior had caused a required meeting between Gibbs, school officials and the child.
Plus, they considered that he had left the apartment by himself, just a month before this and then wandered to the apartment complex swimming pool. The evidence at trial showed that Gibbs should have known that son was immature, apparently unruly; and as a five-year-old, not mature enough to remain alone at his apartment for an hour.
The fifth factor: Protective measures taken to keep the child safe.
According to the Court, there was little evidence to support that Dr. Gibbs did anything to make the child or the apartment secure and safe before he left for his meeting. He never tried to find someone to take care of his son; he didn’t try to reschedule the meeting; and he did not consider taking his son with him.
The sixth factor: The Court considers “any other circumstance that would inform the factfinder on the question whether the defendant’s conduct was criminally negligent.”
In conclusion, the Court upheld the doctor’s conviction. They went on to reason that there is no specific rule that says that any parent who leaves their five-year-old child at home alone, will be automatically guilty of felony child neglect.
According to the opinion, parents are still given leeway regarding the care of their children. Each circumstance and child can be quite different. A parent has a right to decide(within reason), when and for how long, a child is mature enough to be left home alone.
For pic o’ day, I am changing directions… but this repeat always makes me laugh!