Abby Sunderland, a 16 year-old California girl recently made news when she attempted to sail around the world. She was unsuccessful and had to be rescued in the Indian Ocean. Her parents have drawn criticism for allowing her to participate in the inherently dangerous activity. So, is this a crime?
In Indiana, neglect of a dependent, I.C. 35-46-1-4, states that “A person having the care of a dependent . . . who knowingly or intentionally . . . places the dependent in a situation that endangers the dependent’s life or health . . . commits neglect of a dependent.” In Indiana, that’s a D Felony.
The first two elements are plain: having the dependent and intentionally permitting the voyage. Any criminal prosecution would likely turn on whether the 16 year-old is an experienced enough sailor to mitigate the inherent dangers of an around-the-world voyage. Is it less dangerous for one child than another? The defense would present evidence of the extensive training that the 16 year-old had and compare it to the risks of a similarly seasoned adult sailor.
I would also expect some pre-trial fireworks over whether the defense can introduce evidence of the risks of more common activities that minors engage in, such as piloting and powersports, as the State argues to the court that such evidence is irrelevant.
Note there is no defense that the dependent wanted to participate in the activity. Also, though her rescue brings attention to the dangers, her success in the voyage would by no means prevent prosecuton under this law. Also, when the parents are accused of seeking a reality show, they raise a lightning rod in the storm of controversey and make themselves a more likely target.