A 19 year-old Belle Chasse man has been arrested for attempted first degree murder after he confessed to feeding his 2-month old son alcohol while his son was in the hospital, NOLA.com reports. Ceasr Ruiz confessed to taking one of his son’s empty feeding tubes from the hospital, pouring alcohol into it and taking it back to the hospital, JPSO spokesman Col. John Fortunato said.
The child, had been admitted to the pediatric unit at Ochsner Hospital on Oct. 16 because of breathing difficulties. Doctors diagnosed the child with an undisclosed illness, and he was scheduled to have surgery this week. While undergoing treatment Sunday morning, the child started having seizures and was moved to the pediatric intensive care unit, where a blood alcohol level of .289 percent was discovered. (In Louisiana the limit for an adult to be considered intoxicated is .08 percent).
Ruiz told authorities he acted to relieve his son’s suffering, and did not mean to kill him. Nevertheless he was charged with attempted murder. The story illustrates some interesting points about criminal law, but to complete the illustration it is important to understand several criminal statutes.
Murder in Louisiana is defined generally under Louisiana Revised Statute 14:30.1 as “the killing of a human being… [w]hen the offender has a specific intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm”, or [w]hen the offender is engaged in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of … second degree cruelty to a juvenile” (among numerous other listed crimes) even if the offender has no intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm. This is the so-called felony murder rule.
An attempt to commit a crime in Louisiana is defined in La. R.S. 14:27 as generally taking some action toward the accomplishment of that crime. So, trying to commit a murder but failing to kill the intended victim would be an attempted murder.
Second degree cruelty to a juvenile is “the intentional or criminally negligent mistreatment or neglect by anyone over the age of seventeen to any child under the age of seventeen which causes serious bodily injury or neurological impairment to that child”. (See La. Revised Statute 14:93.2.3). Feeding an infant alcohol could surely be considered intentional mistreatment causing bodily injury.
So, in this case it might be easy to conclude that because Ruiz committed a second degree cruelty to a juvenile and would be guilty of murder if his son had died, that since his son survived, he would be guilty of attempted murder.
But not so fast… Louisiana law with respect to attempted murder is a little different. It requires a “specific intent to kill” the victim in every case – not the intent to commit a second degree cruelty (or any of the other listed crimes). So if the child had died, it might be a murder under the felony murder rule, but because the child survived, it cannot be an attempted murder – because there is no proof of any specific intent to kill.
So what is the appropriate charge? In my opinion, because the child (mercifully) did not die, this intentional act that may have led to an accidental killing would only be the underlying second degree cruelty to a juvenile.