In Corvi v. State, the Supreme Court of Georgia reversed the defendant’s convictions for cruelty to children and reckless conduct after two five year-old children drowned in the family pool while the defendant was supervising them.
The Court held that the evidence did not support the convictions because there was no evidence that the defendant left them unattended in the pool or that the children had a propensity to disobey the defendant or other adults.
The record showed that the defendant lived with the Juarez family and looked after their three children in exchange for room and board. On June 9, 2012, the defendant’s five year-old granddaughter had come to spend the night and play with the Juarez’s five year-old daughter. The defendant told the children they could not go swimming, so they played inside. The children appeared to have left the bedroom where they were playing and went to the pool while the defendant was on the phone for about 45 minutes. The parents arrived home and asked where the children were. The defendant responded that they were upstairs in the youngest daughter’s room. The parents and the defendant looked for the children, but could not find them in the house. They found the children in the backyard pool, where they had drowned.
The Court noted that cruelty to children and reckless conduct both require the defendant to have acted with criminal negligence. In Georgia, criminal negligence is defined as “an act or failure to act which demonstrates a willful, wanton, or reckless disregard for the safety of others who might reasonably be expected to be injured thereby.”
The Court noted that the defendant did not leave the children unattended in the pool, or any other objectively dangerous circumstance. The defendant did not leave the children alone in the house. Before beginning her phone call, she told the Juarez’s thirteen year-old son, who was also upstairs watching television, that she was going to the basement to get her blood pressure medication but would be back soon. There was no evidence that the children had a propensity to swim in the family’s pool unsupervised, or to disobey the defendant or adults in general.
There was also no evidence to suggest that the length of time the defendant was on the phone made a difference in what happened. An expert testified that a child could drown in as few as four to six minutes. The Court held that making a 45-minute phone call did not, in itself, constitute a failure to “reasonably supervise the children.”
The Court held that, even when viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, the evidence was insufficient to support the defendant’s convictions. Thus, the trial court erred in failing to grant the defendant’s motion for a directed verdict and in denying her motion for a new trial. As a result, the defendant’s convictions for cruelty to children and reckless conduct were vacated.
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