Law School Case Brief
State v. Ducker - 27 S.W.3d 889 (Tenn. 2000)
The offense of murder for the reckless killing of a child is comprised of the following elements: (1) a reckless killing, (2) of a child victim less than 16 years of age, (3) by aggravated child abuse. Thus, the offense of murder for the reckless killing of a child incorporates the offense of aggravated child abuse into the murder offense. The provisions regarding the reckless mens rea and the victim's age are elements required in addition to the requirement that the killing be committed by aggravated child abuse.
Defendant's children died of hyperthermia after she locked them in her car, with the windows up, and left them for approximately nine hours. Defendant was indicted on two counts of first degree murder for the reckless killing of a child. At trial, Defendant testified that she did not see any danger in leaving her sons in the car for more than nine hours. A jury acquitted the defendant of murder charges but convicted her on two counts of aggravated child abuse. The defendant appealed, raising the question of whether the knowing mens rea of aggravated child abuse refers to the conduct of the defendant or to the result of that conduct.
Did the knowing mens rea of aggravated child abuse refer to the conduct of the defendant?
On appeal, the appellate court affirmed, finding the knowing mens rea of aggravated child abuse referred to the conduct and not to the result of the conduct, and the evidence supported a finding that defendant knowingly, and other than by accidental means, neglected the children, and the neglect adversely affected the children's health and welfare. The court reasoned that the offense of aggravated child abuse was a lesser-included offense of murder for the reckless killing of a child by aggravated child abuse because all of the statutory elements of the lesser offense were included within the statutory elements of the offense charged. Accordingly, the evidence overwhelmingly supported a finding of aggravated child abuse.
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