A group of Florida teenagers who laughed as they recorded on video a disabled man drowning had no obligation to rescue him, it has emerged.
Jamel Dunn, 31, died on 9 June in a 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 on Friday by Florida Today. The teenagers 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.
“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.
But Florida’s law is hardly unique across the US, legal experts said.
“Generally, throughout the US, there is no duty to rescue,” said David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice. Still, he added: “It seems like common sense that those kids should have tried to help the guy instead of filming it.”
Supreme court justice Anthony Kennedy, in a 2012 legal argument, stated that across the US there was 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 were “some severe moral criticisms of that rule, but that’s generally the rule”.
Some states, such as Nebraska, require most people – especially professionals – to report suspected child abuse or face possible misdemeanor charges, said attorney Jeffrey Lapin in Lincoln, Nebraska. He agreed the Florida teenagers committed no crime.
“While it is morally and ethically wrong, it is not illegal to not render aid or make extremely despicable comments,” Lapin said in an email Friday.
Parrish was even more blunt: “Never in my life would I have ever thought we would need a law to make this happen,” he said.
Read more at The Guardian.