The justice system was created to maintain order and eliminate chaos. Laws and corresponding penalties are in place to hold people accountable for their actions. There are thousands of laws on the books, some that help keep order, and some are are simply nuisances. That said, some statues and ordinances, likely won’t make that much sense to the everyday law-abiding citizen. There is one law in particular, active in 11 states, that is troublesome to me. The law is “injury to a child by omission” and the title under which it appears varies from state to state. In summation, a parent or guardian can be held criminally liable for failing to protect their children from harm. At first mention, this law seems reasonable and necessary.
There are parents that have watched their children endure egregious treatment– and in some cases death. In those instances, protecting children makes sense from a legal standpoint. However, when a parent is involved in a domestically abusive relationship, questions then can come up regarding how abused spouses protect their children. If a mother is enduring the same abuse as the children in the household, wouldn’t she give her life to protect her children? There should be an exception established for parents that fear for their lives and the lives of their children when in these dangerous situations.
Long sentences for battered women, are often defended by prosecutors, justified by the allegation that these women fail to protect their children. These prison terms have the distinct ability to send a message to these women about their duties to protect their children at any cost. Tolando Hall (like many others) is currently serving a 30-year sentence in prison for failing to protect her children after taking a blind plea for the crime of “permitting child abuse.” The abuse was committed by their father, Robert Braxton Jr. Braxton, who did not take a plea, and the case against him went to trial. However, when the prosecution’s case fell apart, Mr. Braxton was able to plead out. He was sentenced to two years with time served, and ultimately walked free.
Ms. Hall was not so fortunate. Ms. Hall’s failure to perform on the witness stand frustrated the prosecutor. This frustration lead to Ms. Hall’s 30-year prison sentence. The prosecutor attempted to get the history of the abuse Hall suffered (at the hands of Mr. Braxton) on the judicial record to help the court understand the violence and intimidation that was frequently inflicted upon her. But, Mr. Braxton’s attorney objected to the testimony regarding the abuse. The presiding judge even admitted that Ms. Hall may have been fearful of Mr. Braxton, but this fear wasn’t sufficient to establish the veracity of her testimony.
The question is: When did fear become insufficient? Fearful people often remain in situations that another person would not tolerate. Shouldn’t fear for her life and safety be sufficient enough to account for Ms. Hall’s inability to perform to the prosecutor’s liking? There are thousands of battered people staying in situations because of fear.
Ms. Hall and her children were punished by two separate men, both controlling the destiny of their lives: Mr. Braxton who inflicted constant physical torture on them and the presiding judge who sentenced Ms. Hall 30 years in prison. How long should a parent pay for a crime that was committed against them? Since being sentenced, Ms. Hall has gone before the parole board to plead for her freedom who denied her with a 5-0 vote. She is not eligible for parole until 2030. The system has clearly failed this woman and her children.
If the law responsible for this failure is not repealed, then there should (at least) be an exception to account for women like Tolando Hall. These women are serving anywhere from probation to 30 years in prison for failing to protect their children from the same dangers they are facing. Why is the system failing these mothers and children? Is not the physical abuse punishment enough?
l abuse punishment enough?