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Ruling Sets Standard for Parents' Responsibility in School Shooting

A Michigan appeals court allowed state prosecutors to try their involuntary manslaughter case against the parents of a school shooter in a groundbreaking ruling on criminal responsibility for the acts of a child, the Associated Press reports. The parents of Ethan Crumbley, the teenager who pleaded guilty to killing four students and wounding seven at his high school in 2021, likely will take their challenge to the state's Supreme Court. But, for now, the appeals court's ruling sets a marker for distinguishing the kinds of acts and omissions that can make a parent criminally liable for their child's actions. Crumbley was 15 at the time of the shootings, which he carried out on the same day that school staff summoned James and Jennifer Crumbley to a meeting over their son's violent drawings of a bullet-riddled torso and a handgun resembling the one his parents had recently bought for him.

Attorneys for the parents insist that what would happen that day was not foreseeable. They acknowledge that bad decisions were made but not ones that should rise to involuntary manslaughter charges. Writing for a 3-0 court, Judge Michael Riordan said parents shouldn’t be hauled to court for “subpar, odd or eccentric” care of their kids. But the evidence against the Crumbleys, he added, is much more serious. Besides hearing of the drawings and not taking their son out of school, the parents are accused of not securing the gun and ignoring their son's evident mental health needs. The court noted that the legal threshold at this stage of the case is fairly low under Michigan law. “Whether a jury actually finds that causation has been proven after a full trial, where the record will almost surely be more expansive — including evidence produced by defendants — is an issue separate from what we decide today,” the court said. State lawmakers gave final approval to legislation that was partly influenced by the Oxford shooting. It would require gun owners to keep weapons locked around children. A violation would be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on what a child does with the accessible gun. When he pleaded guilty, Ethan Crumbley said the gun he used was not locked in a box at home.


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