Pennsylvania police charged a mother with child endangerment, reckless endangerment, and corruption of minors after she accidentally mixed her child's baby formula with vodka.
The incident occurred in March this year. According to the WTAJ news channel, Jan Gaikwad of Clearfield County prepared a bottle of formula for the 7-week old child while vodka was out on the counter in a plastic bottle. After the baby began drinking, Gaikwad realized she might have accidentally used the vodka in the child's bottle and dialed 911.
The emergency services took the child to Penn Highlands Clearfield Emergency Department. Tests revealed there was alcohol in the infant's blood. The Pennsylvania police subsequently charged the mother with a felony count of child endangerment, recklessly endangering another person, and corruption of minors.
What is Child Endangerment in Pennsylvania?
In Chapter 18, Section 4304, Pennsylvania's criminal code defines endangering the welfare of children under a broad definition.
According to this code, an offense occurs if "a parent, guardian or other person supervising the welfare of a child under 18 years of age, or a person that employs or supervises such a person, commits an offense if he knowingly endangers the welfare of the child by violating a duty of care, protection or support."
The code is clear that it is not just a parent or guardian but anyone that "provides care, education, training or control of a child" is supervising, and therefore responsible for their welfare. The offense also includes anyone who interferes in an official capacity with reports of child abuse.
Child endangerment can either be a misdemeanor or felony offense. Generally, it is a first-degree misdemeanor. However, if the prosecutor can prove that the offender has shown a pattern of this kind of behavior, also known as a "course of conduct," the offense becomes a third-degree felony. A child endangerment charge can also escalate to a felony offense if the child is very young and/or the risk of bodily harm or death was very high. In the case of Jan Gaikwad, police charged her with the more severe felony count of child endangerment. The maximum punishment for a felony charge is seven years of state incarceration.
There is an enormous amount of grey area surrounding an offense as vague as endangerment of child welfare. Indeed child welfare is a concept that historically has been subject to party political interpretation.
A third-degree felony offense is a serious criminal charge, and this can be particularly contentious when the incident, as in this case, was an accident, and the parent quickly sought medical help. As a parent, it can be impossible to mitigate the chance of risks or accidents to a child altogether.
Similarly, the charge of corruption of minors, defined in the PA criminal code Chapter 63, Section 6301, is distinctly open to interpretation. Under this law, it is a crime to "'corrupt' the morals of any minor." In the baby formula case, the child's health was clearly jeopardized, but the claim of moral corruption is more contentious.
Experienced PA Defense Attorney
With the police increasingly willing to criminalize parenting mistakes with broad category charges like child endangerment or the corruption of minors, it is more important than ever to secure aggressive representation from criminal-defense attorney Joseph D. Lento. If your family life is threatened because of criminal charges, then call the Lento Law Firm now at 888-535-3686 or contact us online for help.