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  • John C. Whitbeck, Jr.


    John C. Whitbeck, Jr. practices in the following areas of law: Family Law, Divorce, Child Custody, Child Support, Visitation Rights, Adoptions, Spousal Support, Mediation, Arbitration, Relocation Cases, Domestic Violence, Criminal Law, DUI/DWI, Reckless Driving, All Felonies, All Misdemeanors, Juvenile Crimes, Mental Health Law, Civil and Business Litigation, Construction Litigation, Education Law, Election Law, Debt Collection, Consumer and Lemon Law.

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  • Ruth M. McElroy


    Ruth M. McElroy practices in the following areas of law: Family law, Divorce, Child Custody, Child Support, Visitation Rights, Adoptions, Spousal Support, Relocation Cases, Pre and Post Marital Agreements, Domestic Violence, Reckless Driving, DUI/DWI, Juvenile Crimes, Felony and Misdemeanor Crimes, Traffic Offenses, Debt Collection, Civil and Business Litigation. She serves the Virginia Court system as a Guardian ad litem.

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  • Jennifer D. Cisneros


    Jennifer D. Cisneros practices in the following areas of law: Family law, Divorce, Child Custody, Child Support, Visitation Rights, Adoptions, Spousal Support, Relocation Cases, Domestic Violence, Juvenile Crimes, Reckless Driving, DUI/DWI, Estate Planning, Wills and Probate, Trusts, Civil and Business Litigation and Debt Collection.

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Schizophrenic Mother Spared Jail Time, Will Receive Mental Health Treatment

A Maryland mother arrested for causing her child’s death after pushing him on a swing set for over 40 hours will not go to prison and instead receive outpatient mental health treatment. According to police, the child died of hypothermia and dehydration as his mother pushed him in a bucket swing during a psychotic episode.

The mother had ceased taking her medication, believing her prescription was not working. She had been diagnosed as schizophrenic just one month before the boy’s death. The mother’s attorney described her client as trapped in a moment, reportedly hearing voices telling her to leave the child in the swing set.

Not criminally responsible

State psychologists who examined the mother said she lacked “substantial capacity to appreciate the criminality of her conduct or to conform her behavior to meet the requirements of the law.” Although prosecutors were unhappy with the decision to reach a plea deal with the defendant, they felt as though they could not overcome the evidence showing the mother was not mentally competent at the time of the incident.

The defendant entered an “Alford Plea,” which is a type of guilty plea that does not admit fault but acknowledges the overwhelming evidence would likely find her guilty in court. The judge in the case declared her not criminally responsible and set terms for her release.

Treatment over incarceration

As part of her conditions for release, the judge in the case specified the defendant must:

  • Be monitored by state psychologists;
  • Refrain from unsupervised contact with children; and
  • Verify she is on medication by submitting to blood tests.

Warning signs of mental health issues

The mother in this tragic case was allowed to have partial custody by a Washington, D.C. judge just 11 days before the child’s death. After her diagnosis with schizophrenia, the boy’s father raised questions about her ability to parent.

The judge in that custody hearing determined the mother was a fit parent and awarded joint custody of the child. After the child’s death, the boy’s father questioned why the mother was not more closely supervised by her family and social service agencies.

Virginia mental health and family law attorneys

Our hearts go out to all the family members in this tragic case. No child should have to die because their parent was not given the mental health services they needed to function. Furthermore, parents who feel their children are placed in dangerous situations with unstable mothers or fathers should be able to protect their children with court orders.

The attorneys of Whitbeck Cisneros McElroy, PC understand both sides of these issues and can help parents and families do the right thing for themselves and others. Our practice areas include child custody areas of family law and mental illness law. If you find yourself at the crossroads of either of these delicate areas of the law, contact our office for a consultation about your case.

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