When is it Considered Culpable Negligence?

July 8, 2022 Criminal Defense, Violent Crimes

Along with the ongoing issue of gun violence in both Florida and the rest of the U.S., there is also the issue of culpable negligence. With the ability of American citizens to keep guns in their homes, also brings up the problem of unlocked or unsupervised weapons. There have been a growing number of cases in which children get a hold of their parent’s gun, and accidentally shoot the gun off at themselves or at someone else.

While any injury or death from shooting is a tragedy, in the case of culpable negligence, what should the punishment be? Families are already devastated by the shooting itself, but should the parent or guardian owning the gun also be prosecuted for culpable negligence? Flagler County officials discuss the possibilities, and how they typically do not prosecute for culpable negligence charges.

We will cover the comments from Flagler County, a recent example case, and the issues of gun negligence in Florida.

Flagler County Comments

In Flagler County, it has been discussed that the police office rarely prosecutes for gun negligence. Twice in the last month, State Attorney R.J. Larizza answered questions at a press conference regarding lack of gun negligence charges.

“Without knowing the circumstances and looking at the actual reports when they come to us. I can’t give you a detailed answer,” Larizza answered in February. “But I can tell you that it depends on the facts and the circumstances, truly whether or not we would consider it to be a crime, and a crime that we could prosecute. But it’s a point well taken. It’s a point well taken.”

During a press conference in May, Larizza addressed the murder of 16-year-old Noah Smith that happened in January—he said, “it’s not an easy statute to prosecute,” but that “typically, if you leave it unsecured, and if you get an access to a child, that’s where we’ve prosecuted, but not necessarily for not securing the fun as far as that statute goes, but more of a child neglect or even a principal to a manslaughter.”

However, just two days later, a local case showed the dangers of culpable negligence once again.

Example Case

Although Flagler County doesn’t typically prosecute gun negligence charges, a recent case has caused a change. Flagler County Sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to the home of Jolani Hood-Sharma, where she called to report a shooting. Her 13-year-old son had accidentally shot himself after playing with the weapon.

Hood-Sharma told police that the gun belonged to the father, who was currently in prison. The gun was usually kept in the garage, but she explained she brought it inside due to the fear that it would go off from the heat. Her son kept rummaging around her room where the gun was hidden in the mattress, despite the mom’s persistent demands to stay out of the room.

Hood-Sharma heard a loud thud and thought it was her son falling off the bed, but realized he had accidentally shot himself and called the police. The 13-year-old survived the shooting, but was taken to the emergency room for his injuries. He told the police he had no intention of harming himself, he was just playing with the .45 caliber Hi-Point gun and didn’t know it was loaded.

Hood-Sharma was originally just arrested for violating the terms of a prior injunction which declared she was not allowed to own any firearms. She posted the $1,000 bail and was released from jail. However after the State Attorney’s Office reviewed the case last week, they filed an additional charge. The mother has now been charged with culpable negligence with an unsecured firearm causing an injury to a minor.

Culpable Negligence in Florida

In Florida, culpable negligence is considered a third-degree felony. Florida Statute Section 784.05 defines the type of culpable negligence in which the parent or guardian leaves a firearm within reach of a child or unlocked or unsupervised, which results in the injury or death of another person.  

If Hood-Sharma is convicted, she faces up to a maximum of five years in prison. It is likely that she won’t have to serve any time even if convicted, since she has no prior record. She was re-arrested on the new charges on Tuesday and now stays at the Flagler County Jail with a $10,000 bond. She is currently on the judge’s order to have no contact with her son.

To read more on culpable negligence, find our informative page here.

Statistics on Gun Negligence

Based on a study by the gun-safety organization Brady Campaign, there are eight children 17-years-old or younger who are unintentionally shot and injured or killed every day in the U.S. The main cause is because of what is called “family fire” which is when there is an unsupervised or unlocked gun in the family’s home where children can easily access it. The parents or guardians of these children are rarely prosecuted.

According to a study by RAND, there are about 1.4 million households in America with firearms that are stored unlocked or with nearby ammunition. Within those homes are an estimated 2.6 million children, who could potentially reach the weapons. Out of the unintentional shooting deaths of children, about 89% take place within the home while the parents are gone, and the children start playing with the gun. Compared to other developed nations, children in America are 9 times more likely to get killed by gun violence.  

There are twenty-eight states in the U.S. that have “child access prevention” or CAP laws. These laws are meant to put the criminal liability on the parent for the culpable negligence in a child accidentally shooting themselves or someone else with a gun in the home. However, Justin Peters argued to Slate that these laws are hardly ever enforced.

The following is a statement by Peters on CAP laws:

“Even in states where these laws exist, they’re both inconsistent—standards and penalties for culpability vary widely from state to state—and inconsistently applied, with prosecutors often choosing not to pursue cases against negligent parents out of sympathy, perhaps, or a sense that these cases are hard to win. And that’s understandable: These shootings are tragedies, after all, and why compound a family’s misery by sending a grieving parent to jail? But CAP laws are only effective as a deterrent if they’re vigorously enforced.”

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

Getting accused of a crime is extremely stressful, and can be a traumatic experience. You may feel like you have no options, or that you’re on your own. However, that’s not the case when you get in contact with a skilled defense attorney. An experienced Florida criminal defense attorney can help you navigate the legal process, and stand in your corner to fight for your freedom. Don Pumphrey and his team at Pumphrey Law Firm have represented clients all across the state of Florida. If you or a loved one have been charged with a crime, call us today. For a free consultation call (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message on our website.

Written by Karissa Key

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