It’s hard to witness the current media storm surrounding Brooke Skylar Richardson and not wonder whether she (and/or her family) was aware of Ohio’s Safe Haven Law. In case you are from outside the Southwest Ohio area or live in a vacuum, Richardson is the 18-year-old Carlisle woman who was accused of giving birth to a baby several days after her high school prom, killing it, burning the body and burying it in her backyard. She has been indicted for Aggravated Murder, Involuntary Manslaughter, Endangering Children, Tampering with Evidence, and Abuse of a Corpse. The case is set to go to trial sometime in the next several months.
This post is not an effort to debate the merits of the case. Rather, the aim is to discuss the relatively new effort by Ohio lawmakers to prevent this very type of thing from occurring. In 2001, Ohio (as well as numerous other states) enacted a law designed to prevent the abandonment or harm of unwanted infants. Specifically, the law provides the following:
- A parent may voluntarily deliver his/her child who is not older than 30 days, without intent to return for the child, to a:
- Law enforcement agency or a peace officer employed by the agency;
- Hospital or a person granted the privilege to practice at, or employed by, the hospital; or
- Emergency medical service organization or an emergency medical service worked employed by or providing services to the organization or a newborn safety incubator.
- The receiving organization must then do the following:
- Perform any act necessary to protect the child’s health and safety;
- Notify the public children services agency of the county in which the child was received;
- If possible, the receiving organization shall gather medical information concerning the child from the child’s parents (to ensure that the child does not have a serious medical condition that is not readily apparent);
- If possible, the receiving organization shall provide the parent who delivered the child written materials that describe services available to assist parents and newborns (to ensure that the parents know that there is help out there should they have a desire to still parent the child); and
- If the child has suffered a physical or mental wound, injury, disability, or condition of a nature that reasonably indicates abuse or neglect of the child, attempt to identify and pursue the person who delivered the child. (In other words, someone who harms a newborn child cannot use the Safe Haven law as a “free pass” to be exonerated for his/her crime.)
- Once Children Services is notified of the child’s receipt by the receiving organization, Children Services shall accept and take emergency temporary custody of the child, file a motion with the juvenile court requesting custody, provide care for the child, and start an investigation of the child. A foster-to-adopt placement is found.
- A parent does not commit a criminal offense and shall not be subject to criminal prosecution in this state for the act of voluntarily delivering a child under this law.
- A person who delivers or attempts to deliver a child who has suffered any physical or mental wound, injury, disability, or condition of a nature that reasonably indicates abuse or neglect of the child is not immune from civil or criminal liability for abuse or neglect.
- A parent who voluntarily delivers a child under this law has the absolute right to remain anonymous.
- A parent who voluntarily delivers a child may leave the place at which the parent delivers the child at any time after the delivery of the child.
- A parent who delivers or attempts to deliver a child who has suffered any physical or mental wound, injury, disability, or condition of a nature that reasonably indicates abuse or neglect of the child does not have the right to remain anonymous and may be subject to arrest.
- Receiving organizations may not:
- Coerce or otherwise try to force the parent into revealing the identity of the child’s parents;
- Pursue or follow the parent after the parent leaves the place at which the child was delivered;
- Coerce or otherwise try to force the parent not to desert the child; or
- Coerce or otherwise try to force the parent to complete medical information forms or accept parental resource materials.
- Authorities are notified when an infant is received and a thorough check is done to make sure no one is looking for the infant.
As you can see, the provisions of this law are quite simple and reasonable. It really makes one wonder why a person would harm an unwanted infant if he/she knew that such a simple and easy procedure existed. I suppose the important question is how many people know about this law? How well has it been promoted to the public? Based upon the number of cases involving teenage mothers murdering their newborns, what, if anything, are our schools doing to educate our youth on Ohio’s Safe Haven laws? Is it acceptable for this issue not to be discussed in our schools? Perhaps now is a good time to contact your child’s school and start the discussion. Can the next Brooke Skylar Richardson case be prevented?
I hope you found this article to be informative. If you have any further questions, feel free to contact Criminal Defense Attorney Jonathan Horwitz at Horwitz & Horwitz, LLC, now located in the heart of Centerville, Ohio.