Laugh­ing teens not obliged to res­cue drown­ing man

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - CURT AN­DER­SON

It may be rep­re­hen­si­ble and morally out­ra­geous, but le­gal ex­perts say a group of Florida teens had no obli­ga­tion to res­cue a drown­ing dis­abled man whom they in­stead mocked, laughed at and recorded on a video that was later posted on­line.

Supreme Court Jus­tice An­thony Kennedy, in a 2012 le­gal ar­gu­ment, sum­ma­rized that across the United States there’s no gen­eral duty to ren­der aid to some­one in dis­tress.

“You don’t have the duty to res­cue some­one if that per­son is in dan­ger. The blind man is walk­ing in front of a car and you do not have a duty to stop him ab­sent some re­la­tion be­tween you,” Kennedy said in ar­gu­ments on the Af­ford­able Care Act, or “Oba­macare.”

Kennedy added that there are “some se­vere moral crit­i­cisms of that rule, but that’s gen­er­ally the rule.”

The case in Cen­tral Florida’s Bre­vard County in­volves the July 9 drown­ing of Jamel Dunn, 31, in a re­ten­tion pond. Po­lice in the city of Co­coa dis­cov­ered later that five teens, ages 14 to 16, had made a video of the drown­ing. The teens can be heard laugh­ing at Dunn, telling him he’s go­ing die and that they weren’t go­ing to help him as he strug­gled and screamed.

Po­lice iden­ti­fied and in­ter­viewed the five teens in­volved. The of­fice of State At­tor­ney Phil Archer de­ter­mined there was no im­me­di­ate in­di­ca­tion that a crime was com­mit­ted be­cause state law does not re­quire peo­ple give or call for help when some­one is in dis­tress. Archer’s of­fice said Fri­day pros­e­cu­tors will re­view the en­tire po­lice file to see if any other crim­i­nal vi­o­la­tions might ap­ply.

“We’re do­ing to give a thor­ough re­view to all the ev­i­dence,” spokesper­son Todd Brown said.

Many coun­tries, in­clud­ing Ar­gentina, Brazil, France, Ger­many, Italy and Rus­sia, do have laws re­quir­ing peo­ple to ren­der aid, even if it means only sum­mon­ing au­thor­i­ties. And vi­o­la­tions in some coun­tries can re­sult in prison time.

But Florida’s law is hardly unique across the U.S., le­gal ex­perts said.

“Gen­er­ally, through­out the U.S., there is no duty to res­cue,” said David We­in­stein, a for­mer fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor now in pri­vate prac­tice. Still, he added, “It seems like com­mon sense that those kids should have tried to help the guy in­stead of film­ing it.”

There are dif­fer­ences in var­i­ous states, but We­in­stein said ex­cep­tions typ­i­cally in­clude re­quired as­sis­tance in car crashes; for peo­ple in spe­cial re­la­tion­ships with oth­ers such as po­lice of­fi­cers, fire­fight­ers, teach­ers, mar­ried cou­ples, com­mon car­ri­ers such as bus driv­ers and em­ploy­ers; and if you your­self put the other per­son in dan­ger in the first place.

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