Juvenile Justice

Child, 5, lacked intent for prosecution for alleged attack that sent teacher to hospital, experts say

  • Print.

child in handcuffs

Image from Shutterstock.

Florida law provides that anyone suspected of a forcible felony, such as aggravated assault, can be prosecuted—no matter what their age is.

But the law is unlikely to be used against a 5-year-old boy accused of beating his teacher and sending her to the hospital, legal experts told NBC News.

Police have said the child won’t be prosecuted for the March 2 attack on the special education teacher at Pines Lakes Elementary School in Pembroke Pines, Florida, report <a href=”https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/5-year-old-attacked-teacher-lacked-intent-necessary-prosecution-rcna19351”“>NBC News, NBC 6 South Florida, 7 News Miami and People.

Experts interviewed by NBC News say that is the right decision.

The teacher, Trisha Meadows, was attacked after taking the child to a “cool down” room, police said. According to Anna Fusco, president of the Broward Teachers Union, the child jumped on the teacher, which caused her to fall and hit her head. The teacher had to be intubated at the hospital but has since been released.

Fusco told 7 News Miami that the student had attacked Meadows twice before, and each time she was taken from the classroom in an ambulance.

A police spokesperson told NBC News that Meadows doesn’t want to prosecute.

Legal experts who spoke with NBC News said the boy lacked the criminal intent needed for prosecution.

“I have never seen a 5-year-old criminally prosecuted for anything like this, especially with the set of special circumstances on top of it,” Jason Blank, chair of the Florida Bar’s Criminal Law Section, told NBC News.

Craig Trocino, a professor at the University of Miami School of Law, told the network that there was a near-zero likelihood of a criminal prosecution.

“I would personally, professionally and legally find it outrageous if someone decided to attempt to prosecute a 5-year-old for aggravated battery,” Trocino told NBC News. “I can’t conceive of a way the state would be able to lodge an argument that a 5-year-old is capable of generating the specific intent necessary to make this a crime.”

Jenny Root, a special education professor at Florida State University, told NBC News that staffing shortages around the nation have left teachers without the tools that they need to help students.

“As a result of the pandemic and staffing shortages, maybe they were used to being in a classroom with three teacher assistants, and now they have one or two,” Root told NBC News. “And now they don’t have the resources to do what they know they’re able to do to be able to support their students.”

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.