Mother's Convictions for Culpable Negligence Overturned on Appeal

In the case of Jennifer Kish versus the State of Florida, Ms. Kish was convicted of the crime of culpable negligence for allowing her three children--ages 10, 8, and 7--who were sick with cold and upper respiratory symptoms, to be left unsupervised for two to three hours after school until adults arrived home from work. The facts of Ms. Kish's case are as follows:

Ms. Kish was called away to Jacksonville in the middle of the day because her mother had a medical emergency. Ms. Kish expected to return home late, after her children's school day had ended, so she called the school and arranged for the school bus to drop off her three children at the home of her former husband and his wife (the “Meadows”). Ms. Kish had not done that before, but she trusted the Meadows.

Ms. Kish did not tell the Meadows about her emergency or that the children would be coming over after school. Although no one was at home when the school bus dropped off the children at the Meadows home at about 3:45 in the afternoon, the children let themselves in the house, did some homework, and watched TV. At some point during the next few hours, the 8–year–old began vomiting, the 7–year–old's nose began to run, and the 10–year–old began running a high fever and panicking. Nevertheless, the 10–year–old cared for the other two children by cleaning them up in a bath and looking for medicine. When the Meadows arrived home around 6 o'clock that night they were surprised to see the children in their home, sick and unsupervised. And they were quite upset with Ms. Kish.

Ms. Meadows took the children to a hospital where the 10-year-old was diagnosed with bronchitis and the other two children were diagnosed with upper respiratory infections. When Ms. Kish arrived back from Jacksonville at about 9 o'clock that night, she didn't find anyone at the Meadows' house. She looked for them for a couple of hours before finally going to the hospital at around 11 o'clock. Later, the police arrived, questioned Kish, then arrested her.

The court of appeals reversed Kish's convictions for culpable negligence because:

1. Ms. Kish encountered a family emergency in the middle of the day while her children were at school.

2. She immediately called her children's school and arranged to have them taken to the home of people whom she trusted.

3. The children were not sick when Ms. Kish made those arrangements.

4. The three children were not so young that leaving them alone in familiar surroundings for a couple of hours could be considered culpable negligence.

5. The 10-year-old provided appropriate care for the other two children until the Meadows arrived home.

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