A Virginia mother was recently charged with felony murder and child neglect after her four-year-old son died after he ingested gummy candies infused with marijuana. The mother, who claimed the boy ate only half a gummy, said that she called poison control and was assured the child would be fine. Detectives investigating the case found an empty jar of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) gummies in the house where the mother and boy were visiting when the child ate the gummies.
While generally safe for most adults, even in seemingly small amounts THC can be dangerous – or potentially deadly – when ingested by children. Often, the packaging on THC-infused candies such as gummies does not look dramatically different from normal candy. It would be easy for a child, particularly one who cannot yet read, to assume the marijuana-infused candy is just candy. The results, such as in this case, can be tragic.
When a child dies due to an overdose of THC from THC-infused candy, who is to blame? The parents or caregivers who are responsible for the child’s health and well-being certainly, but is a tragic mistake worthy of a felony murder charge?
In the Virginia case, the mother is being charged in part for her failure not only to keep the THC-infused gummies away from her child, but for not seeking medical attention quickly enough when her son became ill. According to investigators, the boy might have survived if his mother had sought medical help for him sooner.
Establishing the difference between neglect and tragedy
As a criminal defense lawyer in Maryland, I have learned not to judge the people who come to me for legal advice and representation. All too often, a case that seems simple and obvious in the media is in fact much more complex once all the details are known.
While the case in Virginia is a tragedy all around, it is also a reminder of the enormous responsibility of caring for a child – especially a young child. Every parent makes mistakes. Every parent has that moment when they look away, just for a second, and their child trips and falls down or gets into something they shouldn’t. When these things happen, it can be easy to blame the parent or caregiver, because the child is their responsibility. Certainly, there are parents and caregivers who are neglectful and who put children directly in danger because of that neglect. But, what about parents who make a mistake? I’m not saying that’s what happened in the case in Virginia, only that it could be what happened.
For instance, if you are with your child and turn your back for a second and your little one jumps or falls off of something and bumps their head, are you a neglectful parent? Maybe. Or maybe you are simply busy. And human. Now, let’s say you put ice on the bump on your child’s head and they seem fine, but it turns out that bump caused a concussion or a bleed and your child does not survive. Should you be charged with murder for failing to seek medical attention? Are parents and caregivers now required to diagnose medical conditions with the skill and insight of trained medical professionals?
This scenario may seem a little far-fetched, and I admit that perhaps it is, but ask yourself: Is it possible that the mother in Virginia may have truly believed her son was fine? Perhaps he was lethargic but they had a busy day and it was getting close to his bedtime so she chalked it up to normal sleepiness. Or maybe she truly did not know the dangers of THC poisoning and, believing he had only eaten half of a THC-infused gummy, trusted that her son would be fine based on the information she received during her call to poison control. Either way, a little boy is dead and his grieving mother is facing murder charges.
Would the mother be charged with murder in Maryland?
Probably not. For an alleged crime to warrant felony murder charges in Maryland, the death must occur during the commission of a felony, such as during a robbery or kidnapping, just to name two examples. As such, she wouldn’t be charged with first- or second-degree murder.
Instead, she might face a charge of manslaughter, unless it is proven that either she knowingly and deliberately gave the child the THC-infused gummies, or that she deliberately withheld medical care after realizing her child had ingested the gummies and was in medical distress. It’s still a felony charge that can result in up to 10 years in prison. She would likely also be charged with neglect of a minor, a misdemeanor crime that carries a 5 year sentence and a $5,000 fine.
Two charges? You betcha. And I’d bet solid American money that if a plea offer does make it to the table, it won’t be for the lesser charge.
Regardless of the charges, the mother – or anyone in her circumstances or similar circumstances – should seek legal counsel immediately. While everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty under the law, it is always in your best interest to speak with a skilled Annapolis criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible if you are accused of committing a crime. Even a seemingly minor criminal offense such as a traffic violation can carry serious consequences. Whether you have been officially charged with a crime or if you are being investigated for possible involvement in an alleged criminal offense, an experienced criminal defense lawyer can help ensure your rights are protected throughout the entire process and can begin building your defense immediately, if necessary.
As a criminal defense attorney in Annapolis, I understand the fear and trauma involved in being charged with a crime – or in seeing your loved one arrested or accused of a crime. You do not have to face it alone. I have successfully defended clients against a full range of criminal charges in state and federal courts throughout Maryland. Sometimes the devil, as they say, is in the details, so I begin by listening to your side of the story, without judgment, before determining a strategic defense designed to garner the best possible outcome for you. The police or prosecution may have missed or overlooked an important detail that proves your innocence or shows that you played a lesser part in whatever crime you are alleged to have committed. Whatever the circumstances, I work hard to build an effective defense that picks apart or undermines the prosecution’s case against you.
If you or someone you care about has been arrested or accused of a crime, contact my office – Drew Cochran, Attorney at Law – in Annapolis or Ellicott City by completing this form.
And remember – Keep Calm, and Call Drew.