The Mother of the New Orleans Girl Who Shot Herself Will Face Murder Charges. Here’s Why That’s Wrong.

A blog about murder, theft, and other wickedness.
June 25 2013 1:39 PM

The Mother of the New Orleans Girl Who Shot Herself Will Face Murder Charges. Here’s Why That’s Wrong.

Laderika Smith
Laderika Smith

Courtesy Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office

Crime is Slate’s crime blog. Like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter @slatecrime.

On Sunday a 5-year-old New Orleans girl shot and killed herself with a .38-caliber revolver while her mother was out at the store. On Monday authorities in New Orleans announced that the mother, 28-year-old Laderika Smith, would be charged with second-degree murder—an offense that, under Louisiana state law, is punishable by life imprisonment at hard labor with no chance of parole. Yesterday I wrote that I wasn’t yet sure what to think about the charges against Smith. Now, I’m sure: This is ridiculously severe. Justice will not be served if Smith is convicted.


I’m glad Smith is being held accountable for her daughter’s death. Parents who allow guns into their homes need to bear responsibility for what their children do with those guns. While initial reports made it seem like the gun belonged to Smith, it now appears that the gun may have belonged to a family friend who was temporarily storing it at Smith’s house. Either way, it doesn’t matter. Smith allowed the gun into her house. She’s responsible for what happened with it.

But “bearing responsibility” doesn’t mean “lock her up and throw away the key.” The charges and potential sentence here are wildly inappropriate. Before she was charged with second-degree murder, according to the Times-Picayune, Smith was charged with cruelty to a juvenile, which, under Louisiana state law, is defined as “intentional or criminally negligent mistreatment or neglect by anyone seventeen years of age or older of any child under the age of seventeen whereby unjustifiable pain or suffering is caused to said child.” Once Smith’s daughter died, the authorities upgraded the charge to second-degree murder, which can be applied “when the offender is engaged in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of” a variety of offenses, including cruelty to a juvenile. A person convicted of second-degree murder in Louisiana gets a mandatory life sentence.

Smith did not deliberately abuse her daughter. She did not actively participate in her death. She was criminally negligent in storing a firearm, and her daughter died as a result. Louisiana state laws allow people to be charged with negligent homicide, an offense that carries a maximum five-year sentence, which is on par with the sentences received by other parents in other states whose children accidentally shot themselves.

The fact that Smith might get life in prison shows that the state of Louisiana has no idea how to handle cases like this. There are much better ways to punish parents like Smith. They’re called child access prevention laws, and they exist to help states appropriately punish adults who give children access to firearms, without—as Louisiana has done here—resorting to charges that don’t fit the crime. According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 27 states plus Washington, D.C., have these laws on the books. Louisiana does not.

Child access prevention laws save lives; the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence’s website cites a study which “found that in twelve states where such laws had been in effect for at least one year, unintentional firearm deaths fell by 23% from 1990-94 among children under 15 years of age.” What’s more, they make a clear statement that gun safety is a public concern, not just a private matter, and that failing to observe simple, common-sense safety standards around children ought to be treated as a crime. That should be enough. Prosecute Laderika Smith for that, not some trumped-up, misapplied murder charge. That’s not justice.


Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

160 Countries Host Marches to Demand Action on Climate Change


Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 21 2014 1:15 PM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 5  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Time Heist."
Brow Beat
Sept. 21 2014 2:00 PM Colin Farrell Will Star in True Detective’s Second Season
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 21 2014 8:00 AM An Astronaut’s Guided Video Tour of Earth
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.