Felony Child Endangerment for Drugs in Reach of Children

Two individuals from American Fork Utah are facing a variety of drug charges along with felony child endangerment for storing drugs within the reach of children in the home.

Other people’s children

Child Endangerment

Photo by: Mary T Moore

25 year old Zachery Walters and 24 year old Hilary Lay were staying in the basement portion of a home that belonged to another person when they were arrested for possessing hefty amounts of cocaine and marijuana. The quantity of the drugs confiscated was large enough to bring distribution charges. While the couple knowingly possessed illegal drugs, they likely failed to realize they would also be facing additional felony charges for child endangerment since the landlord’s children had bedrooms nearby; thus potentially putting the kids at risk of coming into contact with the drugs.

3rd degree felony child endangerment

Child endangerment is a 3rd degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of $5,000. Utah Code 76-5-112.5 states regarding endangerment of a child that “a person is guilty of a felony of the third degree if the person knowingly or intentionally causes or permits a child or a vulnerable adult to be exposed to, inhale, ingest, or have contact with a controlled substance, chemical substance, or drug paraphernalia;”

A technicality

While there are no reports or evidence that any children in the home that Walters and Lay were staying in had come in contact with drugs, section 112.5 clarifies that “exposed to” can mean that because of the where the children were in proximity to the drugs, they could have potentially possessed, seen, or even smelled the illegal drugs or paraphernalia. Although Walters and Lay will likely face some drug charges, there are other charges which could be considered questionable such as distribution and child endangerment. An experienced criminal defense attorney is always suggested but would be greatly recommended in a case such as this.

Child Abandonment for Leaving Children Home Alone

Deciding what age is appropriate for children to be left home alone or with an older sibling is difficult for parents to determine, especially when it could be seen as neglect or child abandonment.

Legal age for being home alone

Photo by: Nagesh Jayaraman

Photo by: Nagesh Jayaraman

While Utah doesn’t have a specific age in which children are old enough to be left home alone, it is recommended by the National SAFEKIDS campaign that parents not leave anyone under the age of 12 home alone, and even then only if they are mature. When leaving children home alone, it is important that the children have key essentials first, such as:

• Mature older sibling or babysitter
• Food
• Shelter
• Clothing
• Emergency contact numbers
• Safe, childproofed home
• Rules for staying safe

Leaving children without the things they need to be safe and healthy is looked at as being negligent, and can lead to neglect or child abandonment charges. Unfortunately for one Utah family, the responsible parent failed to provide for the needs of her children prior to her departure and is now facing prison time.

Utah mom leaves children at motel

Photo by: Oakridge Camp and Retreat Center

Photo by: Oakridge Camp and Retreat Center

A southern Utah mom was arrested last week for charges related to child abandonment after she left her three children alone at the motel where the family was living. The oldest child, a 14 year old, is assumed to have been in charge during her absence. During the time that the mother was away, the two younger children, without proper winter attire, left their older sibling at the motel room late at night to go obtain food. Police officers spotted the improperly dressed, hungry children and followed them back to the motel. There the children disclosed that they had no food and didn’t know where their mom was. Officers later located and confronted the mom about her whereabouts, learning she had been out of state and appeared to be under the influence of drugs. Although a 14 year old should have been old enough to watch their two younger siblings for a short period of time, the mom is facing prison for charges related to child abandonment because she left the children without the clothing and nutrition provisions they needed and no way to contact her or another adult.

Child Abuse

Photo by: Ken Mayer

Photo by: Ken Mayer

The phrase “child abandonment” is often used during parental custody battles, when one parent attempts to prove that the other has no interest in the child(ren). Utah law however, also uses this term to define parents who leave their children in poor circumstances. According to Utah code 76-5-109, child abandonment is when “a parent or legal guardian of a child [human being who is under 18 years of age]:
• Intentionally ceases to maintain physical custody of the child;
• Intentionally fails to make reasonable arrangements for the safety, care, and physical custody of the child; and
• Intentionally fails to provide the child with food, shelter, or clothing […]”

Child abandonment is considered child abuse and is punished as such. Utah Code 76-5-109 also states: “A person who commits child abandonment, or encourages or causes another to commit child abandonment, or an enterprise that encourages, commands, or causes another to commit child abandonment, is:
(a) […] guilty of a felony of the third degree; or
(b) guilty of a felony of the second degree, if, as a result of the child abandonment:
(i) the child suffers a serious physical injury; or
(ii) the person or enterprise receives, directly or indirectly, any benefit.”

Any parents who are facing child abandonment charges after leaving their children home unattended are encouraged to seek counsel from a reputable criminal defense attorney.

Automobile Homicide

A 14 year old Taylorsville teenager was struck and killed by a car on Halloween night and it is not believed that the driver will face charges of automobile homicide.

Trick or treating nightmare

Photo by: _zhang

Photo by: _zhang

The 14 year old teenage girl was out trick or treating with a group of friends when she entered a crosswalk located on 2700 West just north of Bennion Junior High School in Taylorsville, Utah. As she began crossing the road, a van driven by an adult woman struck and killed her.

Accident versus being negligent

It is improbable that drivers who cause the death of a pedestrian for reasons such as poor visibility due to a dark costume (which may have been the case here) will face charges of automobile homicide. According to Utah Code 76-5-207 and 76-5-207.5, there are two circumstances in which a driver may be charged with automobile homicide following a fatal auto-pedestrian accident, such as:

• If the driver is distracted by a cell phone or other hand-held device or

• If the driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

While an investigation is still pending, it doesn’t appear that the driver was impaired in any way and thus she will likely be spared automobile homicide charges for the death of the 14 year old girl.

Criminally negligent

Photo by: Lord Jim

Photo by: Lord Jim

If a driver is found to have been driving while intoxicated or on their phone when an accident occurs, they could face a 3rd degree felony for automobile homicide. That charge would increase to a 2nd degree felony if the driver is perceived as being criminally negligent. Utah Code 76-2-102 defines being criminally negligent as deliberately causing the accident, “recklessly with respect to circumstances […]”, or if the driver should have known that their actions could cause the accident to occur. If a driver is ever facing automobile homicide, it is vital to seek experienced, professional counsel to avoid up to 15 years in prison that can come from a 2nd degree felony.