New Guidelines Issued in Israel on Prosecution of Parents Whose Kids Die Through Neglect

Justice Ministry recognizes dilemma in whether to indict for road accidents, drownings and forgetting children in cars.

Scene of collision east of Nahariya, Oct. 8, 2016.
Magen David Adom

State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan issued new guidelines on Sunday concerning the prosecution of parents whose neglect causes their child’s death or serious injury.

The guidelines address road accidents, drownings or forgetting a child in a car.

The Justice Ministry document recognizes that the issue raises serious dilemmas.

“On the one hand, the loss of human life due to negligent conduct, and the need to instill proper behavioral norms, establish a public interest in prosecution,” it said.

“On the other, this is negligence whose results are tragic for the parent as the one directly affected by his behavior and its results – the feeling of loss, pangs of conscience and even shame will accompany the parent for the rest of his life.

“In many cases,” it continued, “the death of the child leads to personal, family, employment and emotional crises.”

According to the guidelines, in the case of a road accident caused by negligence, the tendency should be to prosecute the parent or relative who was driving and caused the death or injury to the child.

This is because of the public interest in fighting road accidents and the fear of a repeat offense.

“In such cases, there should be a suspension of the driver’s license for several years or permanently, and that cannot be achieved without an indictment,” the document said.

A person will not be prosecuted under certain exceptional circumstances – for example, if the negligent parent was seriously injured; if his degree of negligence was relatively low; or because of his age, state of health or other mitigating factors.

In the case of leaving a child in the car, however, the policy of not prosecuting other than in exceptional cases will continue.

“In most cases, and in the absence of contradictory evidence, we’re talking about a tragic event caused by parental distraction or inattention,” the document stated.

“In general, the parent will not be charged except if the degree of negligence is high – such as leaving a child in a car with the intent of leaving him there for a short time and then forgetting him,” it added.

In cases of drowning, the guidelines distinguish between various situations.

Where the drowning occurred as a result of momentary inattention that points to a low level of negligence, the terrible results will be given significant weight and the state will not prosecute.

On the other hand, when the drowning results from a high level of negligence – such as bathing at a beach where bathing is forbidden, leaving a small child unattended at a pool, leaving a baby in a bathtub without supervision, etc. – the prosecution may consider filing charges.

Regarding sentencing in the event of a conviction, the guidelines call for leniency with the accused because of the uniquely tragic circumstances.

“We will lean toward not asking for a prison sentence or community service for the parent unless there are exceptional circumstances justifying this, such as a particularly high degree of negligence,” the guidelines said.