Wrongful entrustment

Wrongful entrustment

How parents can get arrested when their child commits a crime

By A.J. Wagner

Scott Finfrock was a bad driver and his mother paid the price.

Scott did not have a valid Ohio driver’s license but that didn’t stop him from driving. In 2009 he had a serious motorcycle accident while fleeing the police. Almost every bone in his face and three bones in his back were broken. He had permanent brain damage and the right side of his face was paralyzed.

After he was semi-recovered, he took his mother’s car without permission in January. His mother said he would take the car every chance he could get. In fact, police officers had warned Scott’s mother, Debra Finfrock, about letting him drive.

So it should be no surprise that on a night when she came home from a double shift, tired and worn, she dropped her car keys on the table with no thought about Scott getting access to her car. It is also no surprise that Scott’s driving that night got him into another police chase. The chase, which put many lives in danger, ended on the Finfrock’s front lawn with Scott bailing and running further from the police (although he was eventually caught).

It is not uncommon for children to take their parent’s car with or without permission. On any given weekday morning you will find several of these parents in Dayton Municipal Court facing the charge of “wrongful entrustment.”

Wrongful entrustment is defined in section 4511.203 of the Ohio Revised Code which says in part: No person shall permit a motor vehicle owned by the person or under the person’s control to be driven by another if any of the following apply:  (1) The offender knows or has reasonable cause to believe that the other person does not have a valid driver’s or commercial driver’s license or permit or valid nonresident driving privileges.

The statute also says that if you live in the same household as the offender and you are related to them, you are presumed to know that he/she has no license.
As for punishment, this crime can cost up to $1,000 in fines and you can spend up to 180 days behind bars. Further, on a first offense, the car is to be impounded for 30 days; on a second offense the car is to be impounded for 60 days, and; on a third offense the car is to be forfeited to the state. On top of this, the offender’s driver’s license is to be suspended.

Ouch.

Actually, the only issue in State v. Finfrock, Appellate Case No. 24404 from the Ohio Second District Court of Appeals in Dayton, was whether there was enough evidence, given the above scenario, for Debra Finfrock to be convicted. Stated another way: Can forgetfully leaving the car keys on a table be considered giving permission under the statute?

“Permit” is not defined by the statute. This happens. So courts often turn to a book called “Black’s Law Dictionary” which lists cases where words have been defined. In this case, “Black’s” cites Ohio cases that defined the word “permit” as “[t]o suffer, allow, consent, let; to give leave or license; to acquiesce, by failure to prevent, or to expressly assent or agree to the doing of an act.”  “Black’s” also quotes an Ohio court that held “permit” to “connote[s] some affirmative act or omission.”

I pause here to confess. The outcome of this case isn’t important to me. You can continue to ponder what you think the court should have decided, but the reason I chose to write on this subject was to provide you a warning. No matter the outcome, you should know that it’s a bad idea to let someone without a license drive your car. Police do charge people with wrongful entrustment and the penalties are significant.

This is also a defense of the police who do their job. Parents get very upset when they face this charge because they do not feel it is a crime on their part when their kid uses the family wheels, especially if they are insured.

The Finfrock case might seem extreme, but a kid with no license never wants to be pulled over. They know the result is likely not good for them. So when they see the red flash in their rear view mirror, they run, placing children, police and themselves in great danger.

End of sermon.

So, what did the Court of Appeals decide? The panel of three appellate judges agreed that in the definition of “permit” is “to acquiesce, by failure to prevent.” That’s a deal breaker. The young Finfrock had been allowed time and again to drive the car. His permission seemed to be unconditional. Mom had been warned but the driving continued. This is the equivalent of permission and the guilty verdict stands.

Disclaimer: The content herein is for entertainment and information only. Do not use this as a legal consultation. Every situation has different nuances that can affect the outcome and laws change without notice. If you’re in a situation that calls for legal advice, get a lawyer. You represent yourself at your own risk. The author, the Dayton City Paper and its affiliates shall have no liability stemming from your use of the information contained herein.

A.J. Wagner is an attorney with the law firm of Flanagan, Lieberman, Hoffman and Swaim at 15 W. Fourth Street in Dayton. A.J. and his firm would be glad to help you with all of your legal needs. You can reach A.J. at (937) 223-5200 or at AJWagner@DaytonCityPaper.com.

A.J. Wagner is an attorney with the law firm of Flanagan, Lieberman, Hoffman and Swaim at 15 W. Fourth Street in Dayton. A.J. and his firm would be glad to help you with all of your legal needs. You can reach A.J. at (937) 223-5200 or at AJWagner@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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