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When a defendant, who considers himself the victim's parent, establishes a familial relationship with the victim's mother and her children and assumed the role of a father, he assumes, under the common law, the same legal duty to protect the victim from the abuse as if he were, in fact, the victim's guardian. Under these circumstances, to require the defendant as a matter of law to take affirmative action to prevent harm to the victim or be criminally responsible imposes a reasonable duty under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-59(a)(3).
Appellee Santos Miranda resided with his girlfriend and her infant child. Although appellee was not biologically related to the child, he maintained a familial relationship with the girlfriend and child, assumed responsibility for the child's care, and considered himself the child's stepfather. The child was determined to be the victim of abuse caused by great and deliberate force that resulted in life-threatening injuries. After trial, appellee was convicted of assault in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-59(a)(3) and of risk of injury to a child in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53-21 for his failure to protect the child from abuse. The appellate court affirmed the conviction for risking injury to a child, but reversed the conviction for assault concluding that appellee had no legal duty to act under the circumstances of the case. The State sought review of the appellate court’s decision.
Under the circumstances of this case, did the Appellate Court properly conclude that the appellee could not be convicted of violating General Statutes § 53a-59 (a) (3) because he had no legal duty to protect the victim from parental abuse?
The Court reversed the appellate court's order reversing appellant's conviction under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-59(a)(3). The Court held that under circumstances where appellee had established a family-like relationship with the mother and her infant child, where he had voluntarily acted in a parental capacity, and had considered himself the victim’s stepfather, there existed a common-law duty to protect the victim from her mother's abuse, the breach of which can be the basis of a conviction under § 53a-59 (a) (3). The Court held that the liability for the breach of the common-law duty was not foreclosed by the penal code. According to the Court, the principle of imposing a common-law duty in and of itself was not inconsistent with any other principle of criminal liability provided in the code. Despite the absence of a statutory provision that explicitly imposed a duty to protect a child from abuse, the Court concluded that it was appropriate to recognize an affirmative duty to act and to impose criminal liability for the failure to act pursuant to that duty.