Should Parents Be Held Accountable When Their Minor Children Murder?

In 2010, the murder of 12-year-old Autumn Pasquale received both national and international attention, becoming one of the highest profile cases in New Jersey history. Although not a rarity, part of the appeal of this case to media outlets in various countries can be attributed to the fact that a child was murdered by another child.

Justin Robinson was 15-years-old when he strangled Autumn to death and disposed of her remains in a recycle bin. Over the years since Autumn’s murder, her father Anthony Pasquale has made it his purpose to fight for new legislation that would protect children like Autumn. His fight is in the form of a petition for Autumn’s Law. To date, the petition for Autumn’s Law has obtained over 13,000 signatures.

Although parents can be held civilly liable when their minor children murder (depending on the circumstances), Pasquale’s petition seeks legislation that would make those same parents criminally liable if they meet the criteria for Autumn’s Law. Autumn’s law proposes that if abusive or neglectful parents of a minor knew or should have known their child posed a threat or had a propensity for violence and did little or nothing to minimize that risk, they too should be held criminally liable for the child’s actions.

What sparked Pasquale’s crusade was a statement by the defendant during Autumn’s murder case. Through his public defender, Justin Robinson admitted that his violent actions against Autumn were a “learned behavior.” Robinson admitted that he was subjected to years of domestic violence in the home and had witnessed his father choke his mother on a number of occasions. Pasquale also learned that Robinson had a criminal history and has since been diagnosed with a number of emotional and behavioral issues. It became clear to Pasquale that Justin exhibited many red flags prior to the murder, yet his parents failed to properly supervise, control and protect society from their child. This, Pasquale believes, was a contributor to his daughter’s death. Pasquale is confident that had Robinson’s parents provided proper supervision for their child, his daughter would be alive today.

So, should parents be held criminally liable when their minor children murder? Should Pasquale be successful with Autumn’s Law, my opinion is yes.