Man Allegedly Packs Pot in His Son's Lunch, Now Faces Drug Charges

(Written for a Justia client, December 2011. Used with permission.)

A Connecticut man who allegedly dropped a joint in his 18 month-old son’s lunch has been charged with drug possession and child endangerment. Staffers at the child’s day care in Clinton, Connecticut noticed something in the child’s lunch box around noon on Thursday, December 1, 2011. Upon inspection, it appeared to be a marijuana-filled cigarette. The observant staffers contacted the police, who interviewed the child’s father that afternoon. Upon ascertaining that the father had apparently dropped the joint by accident into the lunch box the night before while preparing the child’s lunch, police arrested the man. A search of the man’s home turned up less than an ounce of marijuana and some drug paraphernalia, according to police. Despite ever-harsher tactics in the government’s War on Drugs, police thankfully did not arrest the man’s toddler son.

Police charged the man with possessing a controlled substance and with risk of injury to or “impairing the morals of” a child. They released him on his own recognizance. He must return to court December 22. Generally speaking, possession of less than one ounce of marijuana, by itself, is not treated as a serious criminal offense. When combined with other offenses, however, any drug possession offense can become quite serious.

The offense of “injury or risk of injury to, or impairing morals of, children” is a class B felony under Connecticut law, with a potential prison sentence of one to twenty years. The statute defines it as willfully or unlawfully placing a child in a situation that could injure the child’s health or impair the child’s morals. The definition of “morals” is almost by necessity a fuzzy one, but here presumably prosecutors would argue that allowing a young child to possess an outlawed drug is dangerous to the child’s health and/or morals. The health risk of letting a child come into contact with marijuana is not too far-fetched. The moral risk to an 18 month-old child is not nearly as clear, unless they mean the criminal risk inherent in possessing marijuana in and of itself, a tautological argument if ever there was one. Should this case ever go to trial, prosecutors would likely cast it in terms of child protection more than drug possession, focusing on the father’s alleged lapse in judgment rather than the legally negligible amount of marijuana involved.

This story has made its way around the internet over the past week because of the absurd, even comical, nature of the situation. It presents a serious challenge from a criminal defense standpoint, however. The defendant is placed in the position of admitting to drug possession, admitting to recklessly putting his child at risk, or of somehow allowing his child to come into possession of marijuana. Again, the risk to the child seems minimal, but this case will require a clever and aggressive defense, especially considering all the attention it has received.

© David C. Wells 2014