Commonwealth v. Howard

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court declined the Commonwealth’s invitation to criminalize a puzzling parenting choice. Mother and her three-year-old daughter (“Child”) were traveling in a ride-share vehicle involved in an accident. At the time, Mother was sitting in the front passenger seat, and Child was sitting in the back seat, on the passenger side. There was no car seat in the vehicle, and none of the occupants were wearing seatbelts. No one sustained a severe injury. The Commonwealth charged Mother with reckless endangerment of another person and endangering the welfare of a child. The trial court convicted Mother of both crimes and sentenced her to one year of probation. On appeal, Mother argued the evidence was insufficient. The Superior Court reversed the REAP conviction and affirmed the child endangerment conviction. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed and vacated Mother’s conviction for endangering the welfare of a child. First, the Court rejected the Commonwealth’s suggestion that to establish a violation of Section 4304(a)(1), the Commonwealth was required to prove only that Mother was aware of her duty of care when transporting Child in the vehicle. The Court held that to satisfy the knowledge requirement of Section 4304(a)(1), the Commonwealth was required to prove both that Mother was aware that Child should have been restrained in a car seat when riding in the ride-share vehicle, and that Mother was aware that, by allowing Child to ride unrestrained, she placed Child in a perilous or dangerous situation. The Court then found that Mother’s actions were insufficient to support a conviction under Section 4304(a)(1) because the conduct did not offend the “common sense of the community” or the “sense of decency, propriety, and the morality which most people entertain”. Therefore, allowing Child to ride in the vehicle without a car seat, without more, was insufficient to support a conviction for endangering the welfare of a child under Section 4304.

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