Experts: Teens had no duty to save man

MIAMI — It may be reprehensible and morally outrageous, but legal experts say a group of Florida teens had no obligation to rescue a drowning disabled man they instead mocked, laughed at and recorded on a video that was later posted online. Still, authorities are pursuing possible misdemeanor charges against them for failing to report a death.

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, in a 2012 legal argument, summarized that across the U.S. there’s no general duty to render aid to someone in distress. “You don’t have the duty to rescue someone if that person is in danger. The blind man is walking in front of a car and you do not have a duty to stop him absent some relation between you,” Kennedy said in arguments on the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.”

Kennedy added that there are “some severe moral criticisms of that rule, but that’s generally the rule.”

The case in central Florida’s Brevard County involves the July 9 drowning of Jamel Dunn, 31, in a retention pond. Police in the city of Cocoa discovered later that five teenagers, ages 14 to 16, had made a video of the drowning, which was published Friday by Florida Today. The teens can be heard laughing at Dunn, telling him he’s going die and that they weren’t going to help him as he struggled and screamed.

Police identified and interviewed the five teens involved. The office of State Attorney Phil Archer initially determined there was no immediate indication that a crime was committed because state law does not require people to give or call for help when someone is in distress. But later, after the story drew widespread attention online, officials said they were pursuing misdemeanor charges of failure to report a death against the teenagers.

“While this in no way will bring justice for what occurred, it is a start,” Cocoa Mayor Henry Parrish III said. “I know that everyone working on this investigation has been tireless in their efforts to find answers. Everyone has been affected by what we have seen.”

Many countries, including Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy and Russia, do have laws requiring people to render aid, even if it means only summoning authorities. And violations in some countries can result in prison time.

COMMENTS