PORTLAND, Ore. – Accompanied only by the family dog and his toy truck, a 3-year-old boy wandered the streets near his Oregon home in June 2011 while his father slept.
It was the second time the boy left the home in Redmond in the span of a month. The toddler's father, Jorge Negrete, was cited for second-degree child neglect.
A three-judge panel of the Oregon Court of Appeals reversed his conviction on Wednesday, saying the dozing dad's conduct was "not a model moment in care" but was not so far from the societal norm that it merited criminal charges.
After the first escape by the child, Negrete met with the Oregon Department of Human Services and installed chain locks on two of his three doors. He didn't put a lock on a garage door, which the toddler apparently used for his second escape.
The appeals court said that was a mistake but did not amount to criminal negligence. The judges said the Deschutes County Circuit Court incorrectly denied the father's motion for acquittal.
Negrete "had acted to contain a fearless toddler," Court of Appeals Judge Joel DeVore wrote in the ruling. "Defendant's failure to secure the garage door shows that his efforts were imperfect, but they were meaningful, even if they failed."
Justices compared the case to the 1981 conviction of Tina Marie Goff, a Linn County woman who left her daughters, ages 8 and 1, at home while she attended a Halloween party. The girls found matches, started a fire and died of smoke inhalation.
Goff was convicted of child neglect, but the Court of Appeals ruled in 1984 that prosecutors could not prove that Goff had created dangerous conditions in her home. The Oregon Supreme Court overruled the appeals court, finding that the matches Goff left in the home were sufficient for a conviction.
In another case, a passerby found the 4-year-old son of Amy L. Savage on his tricycle in the middle of a residential street in Ontario in 2005. When a police officer arrived, the child had returned to his house and answered the door. Savage appeared to be sleeping.
Savage was convicted of second-degree child neglect, but the appeals court also reversed that decision, saying there was no evidence that a reasonable juror could find that Savage acted criminally, and that Savage's conduct didn't deviate from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe.
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