A 37 year old Central Pennsylvania women has been charged with aggravated assault and endangering the welfare of a child in Lebanon County, after leaving an eight month old baby in a sweltering car for over two hours in July of this year. The baby barely survived, and is now brain-damaged, blind and deaf. The defendant, Damaris Manrique, had been the baby's legal guardian.
It is obvious why Ms. Marique is charged with endangering the welfare of a child, but a natural question is why she is charged with aggravated assault, when she never actually assaulted the child in any conventional sense of the word. The legal definitions of both aggravated and simple assault are far broader than the usual meaning of assault in the English language. Pursuant to the Pennsylvania Crimes Code, aggravated assault includes recklessly causing serious bodily injury under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life. Thus, a defendant must go beyond mere negligence to be charged with an unintentional aggravated assault. The offensive conduct must be so extreme, that any reasonable person could foresee that serious bodily injury to a victim is all but a foregone conclusion. In this case, I believe the Commonwealth has a very strong argument that any reasonable person should have known that leaving a baby in hot car on a July afternoon would result in death or serious bodily injury.
When a defense lawyer is confronted with this type of case, the first question is "what was my client thinking?" In my experience, drugs, alcohol, mental illness or some combination thereof often play a rule. Leaving a baby in a hot car is not something a normal person would do, but someone on a crack binge could easily lose track of time and neglect responsibilities.
If Ms. Marique is convicted, she faces a mandatory minimum sentence of five to ten years for committing an aggravated assault against a child less than 13 years of age, meaning that she would not be eligible for parole until she has served at least five years. State prison may not be a welcoming place for her. While child molesters are at the bottom of inmate hierarchy in male prisons, women who assault or neglect children are at the bottom of the inmate hierarchy in female prisons.
Matt McClenahen is a criminal defense attorney in State College, Pennsylvania, home of Penn State University. http://www.mattmlaw.com/Criminal-Defense-Overview/Assault-Defense.shtml