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Criminal Law

Exam 21
30 minutes

Fact Pattern

A young child died of a bacterial infection, after her parents chose not to take her to the hospital. The child had been ill for several weeks with a high fever. During the last week of her life, she lost weight rapidly and slipped out of lucidity. 

The child’s parents knew that they had a duty to provide her medical care, but they believed that they had provided the requisite level of care through herbal medicine and prayer. They even asked a local lawyer—an expert in treatment by prayer and herbal medicine—whether their actions violated the law, and he told them no. In addition, the parents had communicated extensively with a network of parents in their health movement to tailor their child’s treatment. What is more, during childhood, both parents had received similar treatment for fevers, and both had recovered. Accordingly, the parents concluded that the child must have simply been destined to die. 

In a Model Penal Code (MPC) jurisdiction, the parents are charged with “withholding lifesaving medical treatment from their minor child, causing the child’s death.” This provision does not expressly provide for a mistake-of-law defense. 

Assume the prosecution can prove the above facts at trial. Further assume that the prosecution can establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, the actus reus of the crime charged.


Questions

  1. Do the parents have a valid mistake-of-law defense to liability for withholding lifesaving medical treatment from their minor child, causing the child’s death? Explain, applying only the MPC.

Question 1

Do the parents have a valid mistake-of-law defense to liability for withholding lifesaving medical treatment from their minor child, causing the child’s death? Explain, applying only the MPC.

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