In light of the tragedy at Oxford High School, many are debating whether parents can be held criminally responsible for their child's actions. In the case of Ethan Crumbley's parents, prosecutors say they should. Here's what you should know.
November 30, 2021
Ethan Crumbley, a 15-year-old student at Oxford High School, opened fire on fellow students, killing three and injuring several others. Police responded to the call immediately and arrived at the school within minutes to take Crumbley into custody.
Teachers noticed red flags like bloody notebook drawings and messages on his assignments. Crumbley brought a newly gifted gun to school and used it to gun down several students. Crumbley's parents gave him the gun as a Christmas gift and told him not to get caught if he took the gun to school.
This raises many questions about his parent's involvement in the shooting and whether they are criminally responsible for his actions.
Why Are the Parents Being Charged?
There are several reasons why the Crumbleys are facing criminal charges in their son's case. Prosecutors view their lackadaisical attitude about his gun as criminally negligent. Michigan doesn't have laws in place to hold gun owners liable for failure to secure firearms from their children, but there is a duty of care to prevent accidents from happening.
Prosecutors will have to prove that the Crumbleys were grossly or recklessly negligent. This means that not only did they violate their duty of care, but they did so in a way that led to death or severe injury. Because of the sensitive nature of this case, the prosecution has a solid case to bring before the jury.
Another reason why the Crumbley's are being held partially responsible is for involuntary manslaughter. In general, involuntary manslaughter charges require the prosecutor to prove that the parents indirect involvement in the crime resulted in manslaughter. This means that the parents contributed to the crime in a significant way that led to death.
In general, gross negligence and involuntary negligence are often thrown together, but in this case, they could carry separate and more severe penalties. However, the third element to this case could spell trouble for the Crumbleys: egregious behavior.
Egregious behavior is actions that would seem egregious or outrageous to a jury. For example, a financial advisor advises an elderly client to contribute their savings and retirement fund in order to enroll in a premium service offered by the firm. The advisor pockets the money instead of investing it as promised. This behavior is morally reprehensible and inappropriate for the situation.
This is considered egregious behavior, and while it isn't a formal criminal charge, it can elevate the sentence at the worst and increase the prosecution's hand at the least. In this case, the parents not only purchased a gun for their son, but they encouraged him to keep it stashed away and to stay out of trouble when looking for bullets.
It's easy to convince a jury of the parents' guilt when it's apparent that they not only armed their son but encouraged him to keep it a secret. A text from Ethan's mother after the school called her about his disturbing behavior stated,
"LOL, I'm not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught."
IF brought up in court, this text message could be strong evidence to support the idea that the Crumbleys displayed egregious behavior.
Ethan will be charged as an adult, rare for juvenile offenders. Prosecutors charge children as adults if evidence suggests that the offender knew what they were doing was wrong or criminal.
If Ethan unknowingly fired a loaded gun at a fellow student or was forced to commit the crime or face abuse from his parents, his case may have gone to juvenile court. However, because he showed signs of premeditation and his parents encouraged his negative behavior, Ethan and his parents face serious charges in adult court.
Criminal intent plays a significant role in any criminal case, especially this one. According to prosecutors, Ethan showed criminal intent, and his parents facilitated it. He is young enough not to have access to a firearm on his own but old enough to understand death and the nature of his actions. His parents supplied him with the gun to fulfill his goals which makes them at least partially responsible in the eyes of the court.
The Crumbley family faces a long hard road ahead as the court begins the trial process. Prosecutors have sufficient evidence to support a strong case against Ethan's parents, which could mean a lengthy prison sentence in the future.
This case could set a legal precedent for parental responsibility in juvenile cases. If the Crumbley's are found guilty, parents may be held responsible in future cases where their child commits a crime.
White Law PLLC will stay updated on the Oxford case and the Crumbley trials.