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People v. Heitzman

Supreme Court of California
886 P.2d 1229 (1994)


Robert Heitzman, a 67-year-old disabled man who was unable to care for himself, lived with two adult sons who were in theory his caretakers, but who subjected Robert to horrific neglect. Robert’s daughter Susan (defendant) had cared for him prior to moving away, but visited the home regularly and knew of the horrendous conditions. Upon his death, Robert’s sons were prosecuted for their abuse of Robert under a California statute criminalizing elder abuse. Susan was charged under the same statute for failing to prevent the abuse. Susan moved to set aside the charge, alleging that knowledge of the abuse did not create a duty to prevent it. In response to the prosecution’s (plaintiff) argument that the statute created such a duty, Susan filed a demurrer arguing that the statute was unconstitutionally vague. The court agreed and dismissed the case against Susan. The state appealed. The court of appeal reversed the lower court’s decision, holding that Susan could be found liable only if she was under an existing duty, and finding that she was under a duty to prevent the abuse based upon the parent-child relationship codified in other California statutes. Both Susan and the state appealed.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Lucas, C.J.)

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