Mother Takes Europe Vacation-and Leaves Behind 4 Kids

Erin Lee Macke, a 30 year old Iowa mother, left the United States and planned to leave her four young children home alone unsupervised for two weeks. She has 1 six year old, 1 seven year old, and 2 twelve year olds. The Police received a tip about her leaving the children alone and checked on them the day after she left.The officers found the four children alone that evening, and the older twins were preparing to feed their sisters.They found the four children alone. The kids told the officers that their mother didn't arrange for anyone to watch them while she was gone.

Macke was contacted by police over the phone while she was in Germany, and was told to return to the states. She told the police that none of her babysitters could watch the kids, so she decided to leave her preteens in charge.

She returned to the States, and she was charged with four counts of child endangerment and one count of making a firearm available to a person under the age of 21 because there was a gun in the house within reach of the children. The Iowa Department of Human Services took custody of the children until other family members were able to step in and take care of them.

The Judge ordered that Macke not have contact with her children whatsoever.

Comments from Allen:
Idaho has a standard "child endangerment" law that reads:

(2) Any person who, under circumstances or conditions other than those likely to produce great bodily harm or death, willfully causes or permits any child to suffer, or inflicts thereon unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering, or having the care or custody of any child, willfully causes or permits the person or health of such child to be injured, or willfully causes or permits such child to be placed in such situation that its person or health may be endangered, is guilty of a misdemeanor.

The problem with this type of law is that it is very vague.  While you and I may agree that what this woman did was outrageous and irresponsible, a person cannot be prosecuted for a crime unless he or she violates a clear law prohibiting certain behavior.

I have seen people prosecuted for violating this law for merely falling asleep on a couch in their home when they were charged with watching a small child, and the child unlatched the door and walked down the street.   Should anyone be threatened with having their children taken away or going to jail if that happens?  Certainly not.

Commentators on this kind of crime say it is a matter of degree: some kids are more mature than others, and kids mature at different ages, and while a 30 minute trip to the store by mom is maybe okay, that is quite different than an intercontinental plane flight 4300 miles away from the kids.

Mom will be convicted here.

That said, this statute, I believe, is very near that line which nullifies a criminal statute for being unconstitutionally vague.  It is a catch-all kind of statute, which seeks to criminalize conduct which is tough to define with clarity in every case.  And if the conduct sought to be punished is not clearly defined in a criminal statute, the statute is at risk for being declared unconstitutionally vague, even if what a criminal defendant did was clearly wrong.


Allen Browning is an attorney in Idaho Falls, Idaho who handles personal injury and criminal defense. He has over 30 years of experience and handled thousands of cases. Allen handles cases from all over Idaho. Call (208) 542-2700 to set up a free consultation if you are facing legal trouble or you have been involved in an accident.

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