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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

City Can’t Blame Parents|for Children’s Crimes

(CN) - A "parental responsibility ordinance" in Davenport, Iowa, violates the constitutional rights of parents by assuming their children's crimes stem from bad parenting, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled.

After an increase in juvenile crime, the city passed an ordinance in 2006 to promote parental responsibility. It read in part:

"Those who bring children into the world, or those who assume a parenting role, but who fail to effectively teach, train, guide, and control them, should be accountable to the community under the law."

Nicholas Hensler, a 17-year-old boy, was an honor student whose world was shaken by the death of his grandmother and the teasing of fellow students, who called him "brainiac."

He began hanging out with different friends and got arrested twice for marijuana use. This resulted in his single mother, Anne Hensler, receiving two citations under the parental responsibility ordinance.

She challenged the ordinance in the trial court, which agreed with her that the law violated her substantive due process right under the federal and state constitutions.

The Iowa Supreme Court upheld the ruling, noting that the occurrence of a juvenile crime does not necessarily mean a parent was negligent.

"Long ago, we realized that things happen absent a person's negligence," Justice David Wiggins wrote. "For this reason, we do not permit a fact finder to presume a person's negligence merely because some incident occurred."

He added, "Accordingly, we hold the provisions of the ordinance creating the presumption are arbitrary and irrational and violate the due process clause of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution."

The state high court severed the unconstitutional portion from the rest of the ordinance and sent the case back to the lower court.

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