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Louisiana judge: Mother's neglect did not justify murder charge

The public's urge to strike out to identify a killer is sometimes stronger than the evidence to support criminal charges. Behavior and intent are crucial considerations when determining whether a person is accused of a crime, especially when charges are as serious as murder.

The circumstances surrounding the death of a 5-year-old Louisiana girl prompted New Orleans prosecutors to file second-degree murder charges against the child's mother. Officials said the accused woman left her daughter unsupervised long enough for the troubled child to access a loaded gun and commit suicide.

Louisiana laws specify that second-degree murder must involve a defendant's intent to cause great harm or kill. An exception in the law also allows charges to be filed when a death occurs while a defendant is committing a second felony involving violence.

The prosecutors' argument was that the woman was grossly negligent for leaving her daughter alone, knowing the girl had suicidal thoughts. A judge said the criminal charge was inappropriate because the mother's absence from the apartment, however negligent, could not be linked to an intent to kill.

A similar case was heard by the state Supreme Court in Shreveport. A woman left her two young children at home. A fire broke out in the mother's absence, killing one of the children. The defendant's conviction for second-degree murder was overturned. The court decided the woman was negligent but did not commit a "direct act" of harm.

The consequences for convictions for second-degree murder and negligent homicide are startlingly different. A negligent homicide sentence may carry a prison term of up to five years, while a murder conviction can lead to lifetime imprisonment.

A defendant is found guilty or freed based on facts and the boundaries of the law. Criminal charge reductions or dismissals occur when the desire to exact a harsh punishment becomes greater than proof of a crime.

Source: theadvocate.com, "Judge tosses mother's murder indictment" Claire Galofaro, Sep. 30, 2013

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