If you have an eleven-month-old daughter, and your boyfriend beats her to death, and you then try to cover up for your boyfriend’s fatal attack, should you be found guilty of felony child endangerment even though you didn’t actually physically hurt the child? Yes, says the California Supreme Court, and I am quite happy to hear that. This case involved Eva Valdez, whose daughter Thalia died as a result of injuries she sustained at the hands of Eva’s boyfriend, Hiram Lebron. Mr. Lebron was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and Ms. Valdez was convicted of felony child endangerment. The jury also decided that Eva Valdez was guilty of what is referred to as an “enhancement,” finding that she had permitted her daughter to be injured and that the injury resulted in death. While Ms. Valdez received a two-year prison sentence for her crime, she received four years on top of it for the enhancement.
The definition of criminal negligence is the key to this case, with the State Supreme Court defining it as “involving aggravated or reckless conduct that is so out of line with what a careful person would do that it reflects an indifference about life and death.”
In her opinion for the Court, Justice Brown decided that when one veers so significantly from the manner in which the average person would behave, so that the behavior is “incompatible with a proper regard for human life,” criminal negligence is present.
What I hope will come from this case is that people who make significant mistakes step forward rather than compounding their mistakes with cover-ups. In this case, Eva Valdez should have acknowledged that she screwed up big time by leaving her daughter in the custody of Mr. Lebron. Mr. Lebron beat her daughter to death. What we don’t want to encourage is people trying to cover up that type of behavior. Eva Valdez should have come forward. When one has a child, there is a certain level of responsibility that goes with having that child. Of course, you are supposed to put food on the table and a roof over the head; however, you are also supposed to make sure your child doesn’t get beaten to death by your psycho boyfriend. In that event, you need to do the right thing.
Eva Valdez did not do so in this case, as she attempted to help Mr. Lebron cover up his behavior. This cannot be countenanced. I say she got what she deserved.
Charlie Unger is a criminal defense attorney in the Glendale law firm of Flanagan, Unger, Danis & Grover, and a psychotherapist at the Foothill Centre for Personal and Family Development. Mr. Unger writes a bimonthly column on legal and psychological issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (818) 244-8694