Should Parents Be Held Accountable for the Crimes of Their Children?
The horrific murder of 12-year-old Autumn Pasquale came to a conclusion when her 16-year-old killer, Justin Robinson, was sentenced to 17 years in prison. Hardly seems like enough, but his age and plea deal allowed Justin to get a sentence that many feel isn't enough for his crime. But the case isn't over yet. Autumn's father, Anthony Pasquale, is suing Robinson's parents for "raising a murderer."
The lawsuit states that Robinson's parents knew or should have known before Autumn's murder that their son "posed a risk to third parties." Said Anthony's attorney:
If you're going to raise a murderer, you're going to take responsibility for it.
Pasquale believes that Robinson's parents knew Justin was stealing bicycles and that he had "pre-existing emotional, psychological, and neurodevelopmental problems." He also says that witnessing domestic violence in the home helped raise the boy who would kill his little girl.
Should parents be accountable for the murders of their children? Certainly, the Pasquales aren't the only ones who think so. Last year, the parents of Leiby Kletzky filed a civil suit against his killer's parents, who they believed should have known was capable of kidnapping a little boy and chopping him up.
But how much can parents know? How much can they predict? How much can they prevent? And how much, really, are they accountable for?
We all know those stories of the wonderful parents who just happen to have a "black sheep" in the family. They do everything for their kids, but one is always fighting, doing drugs, getting into trouble.
And then there are parents who pretty much do everything in their power to raise a troublesome person. The child suffers physical, mental, or sexual abuse at their hands. Violence is taught, encouraged, and permeates the household. Can anyone say the adults who encouraged these two little girls to fight shouldn't be held accountable?
But at what age does a child have freedom of choice? And how much bad parenting does it take for that freedom of choice to be stripped away as a kid is raised in such an atmosphere of violence and disturbing behavior that he or she knows nothing else?
But what of factors that can contribute to a murderous personality that are entirely beyond a parent's control? Like mental illness, brain chemistry, psychopathy?
I really don't think most parents want to be held accountable for their child's crimes or other negative behavior any more than they want to be held accountable for their parking tickets. On the other hand, parents are all too willing to step up and claim credit when their kids "done good." (Check out those "My child ... yada yada" bumper stickers.)
And let's not forget that it was Justin's own mother, Anita Saunders, who turned her son into police. But now the lawsuit states: "Saunders had a duty to reasonably supervise the actions of her son ... [and] could reasonably have foreseen that without proper treatment and proper supervision that her son, defendant J. Robinson, posed a risk to third parties."
Really, she could have foreseen that her son would strangle a neighborhood girl? Sorry, but stealing bicycle parts does not a murderer make. And even if Saunders did believe, deep down, her son was capable of murder -- WHAT was she supposed to do about it? Go to police and say, "Arrest my son, he might possibly kill someone someday"? Good luck with that one.
But should parents be held responsible for their children's crimes after the fact?
In my personal opinion, it really all depends on each case. If you've got a household with overwhelming dysfunction -- abuse on all levels, casual and encouraged violence -- and all of this can be unequivocally proven, then who is to say that parents shouldn't be sued for practically ensuring that their child is going to wreak havoc?
On the other hand, there's simply a lot parents can't control. I've witnessed many good parents with out-of-control children who have gone on to raging teen years and dissolute adult years -- and the parents are baffled and heartbroken. (Many parents are actually killed themselves by these types of children.)
But I've also seen terrible parenting and kids who either go on to become predictably problematic -- or, more often than you would think, who overcome their past to become empathetic, hard-working, law-abiding contributors to society.
We just never know how our parenting will take. We can only do our best and hope for the best.
Parents, how much are you responsible for what your kids do?