Prosecution of North Carolina Mother Who Lost Her Son in Hurricane Raises a Number of Criminal Justice & Civil Rights Concerns
North Carolina’s recent decision to criminally charge a mother whose child drowned during Hurricane Florence has drawn a number of concerns from criminal defense and civil rights experts, and with good reason.
The defendant (who is African-American) was charged with involuntary manslaughter and driving on a closed or unopened highway, and faces a manslaughter charge, which is a felony in North Carolina.
While all of the details concerning what exactly happened on the night of the incident are still in question, according to officials, the defendant and her son were overcome amid the Category I storm that killed 50 people across three states. She was driving along Highway 218 in New Salem, east of Charlotte, and came upon a creek that had overflowed. Her car was swept up in 10 feet of water and slammed into a tree. As she was trying to escape, she reportedly lost control of the child and both she and the rescue team could not save him.
The Alleged Criminal Violations
Officials have apparently decided to hold the defendant responsible because they claim that she knowingly drove around barriers placed on portions of the highway that were impassable in order to proceed on Highway 218. However, according to the defendant, those barricades had already been moved, and she saw other cars cross the road safely before she attempted to do so. In other words, the prosecution appears to be entirely based on claiming that the defendant acted recklessly and violated her duty to ensure that her son was protected. It has the burden of proof to prove that she acted criminally negligent when unintentionally causing a death.
Civil Rights & Racial Concerns
According to some civil rights advocates, forcing the defendant to go through the criminal justice system for a death that was clearly accidental in this case speaks to larger issues involving the prosecution of people of color. Some have suggested that it is part of a larger problem of African-Americans being disproportionately arrested and charged in the U.S., as well as involving the act of traumatizing someone who is already traumatized due to the loss of her child.
In addition, a number of questions remain as to whether or not the defendant actually understood just how bad conditions were at the time, and whether she simply made a mistake, which many parents do every day; mistakes that sometimes have deadly, heartbreaking consequences, but do not result in criminal prosecution for everyone.
Contact a North Carolina Criminal Defense Attorney
If you or a loved one has been charged with manslaughter or homicide here in North Carolina, you need to speak with an experienced, compassionate criminal defense attorney right away. There are simply too many instances involving people being wrongfully prosecuted based on inequality. Contact our criminal defense attorneys at the office of Dysart Willis today to find out more.