(CN) – A Florida appeals court revived charges against a teenage baby sitter whose pit bull mauled a neighbor’s 2-year-old child under her care.
Kayla Nowlin, who was 17 years old when the March 2009 attack occurred, knew that her dog had bitten another child in the neighborhood less than six months earlier.
Nowlin was not supposed to have brought the toddler she was baby-sitting to her home under instruction from the child’s mother, even though the child had played with the dog without incident in the past.
The trial court ruled that Nowlin could not be held criminally liable for child neglect because juveniles cannot be considered caregivers. The court also found Nowlin’s conduct did not constitute civil negligence.
Florida’s first district appeals court reversed the decision in a split-panel decision, finding that juveniles can be prosecuted for child abuse, and child neglect is no different.
“Nothing in [the Florida statute] supports drawing a distinction between child abuse and child neglect to exempt a 17-year-old from criminal liability for the latter,” Judge Simone Marstiller wrote for the majority.
Judge Philip Padovano dissented from the court’s opinion, arguing Nowlin deserves the benefit of the doubt since the statute is vague.
If age cannot be taken into account, a 5-year-old child could be charged with criminal neglect, the dissenting opinion states.
“The problem with [the majority’s] interpretation is that it renders the rest of the statute meaningless,” Padovano wrote. “If the majority is correct, the statute could be rewritten to simply say that any person who negligently cares for a child and thereby causes great bodily harm to the child is guilty of a crime.