Grieving Mother Charged With Manslaughter For The Sleep Position She Chose For Her Child

by Elizabeth Licata
Originally Published: 
Empty baby's crib covered with a white sheet

A grieving mother was charged with felony murder because her baby died after she put him down to sleep on his stomach.

Most parents in the U.S these days are told to only put their babies down to sleep on their backs, never their sides or stomachs. Still, many parents do sometimes put their babies down on their stomachs, sometimes because the parents don’t know the importance of having babies sleep on their backs, and sometimes because the babies just don’t seem to be able to sleep lying flat on their backs. It’s a mistake that many parents have made and will continue to make, but now one grieving mother in Virginia was arrested and charged with felony murder and child neglect after her baby accidentally died while sleeping on his stomach.

According to The Washington Post, 25-year-old Candice Christa Semidey had fed her four-month-old son, Jahari Jones, then she swaddled him and laid him down to sleep. She placed him on his stomach on a makeshift bed she’d made of a chair cushion and a blanket, and when he was asleep she laid down for a nap of her own.

Tragically, Semidey awoke to find the baby was unresponsive. She called for help, but it was too late. Jahari Jones suffocated against the blanket in his sleep. It was a terrible accident, but Semidey was later arrested and charged with child neglect and felony murder.

Sergeant Jonathan Perok of the Prince William County Police told The Daily Beast that investigators knew Semidey had not meant for the baby to die, and she was not under the influence of any drugs or alcohol and there were no other indicators of neglect in the baby’s life, but that putting a baby down to sleep the way she did was negligent enough to be considered criminal. The police said that Semidey had been informed after her son was born that babies should sleep on their backs.

Semidey reportedly pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and child neglect and was given a five-year suspended sentence.

The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that babies sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of SIDS, but most of us were probably laid down to sleep on our own stomachs when we were babies. That sleep position was largely the norm in the U.S. before 1994, when the government’s “Back to Sleep” campaign started urging parents to lay their babies down on their backs to sleep. That campaign has been very successful in reducing the numbers of SIDS deaths in the US since it was established by an estimated 50 percent. That’s brilliant, and it is excellent that parents are being educated about the increased risks of stomach-sleeping for babies, but many still opt–either regularly or just on occasion–to disregard the recommendation.

Semidey made a terrible mistake that will most likely haunt her for the rest of her life, but it’s one that mothers and fathers make every day. Sometimes a parent does not know the baby should be on its back, or sometimes a parent just decides that the risk of SIDS is still very small and puts a baby on its stomach so that it will sleep more comfortably.

None of us will get out of parenting without making mistakes, some of them terrible–many parents are evidently driving around with their children improperly buckled into their car seats, for example–Semidey made a grave mistake that ended in tragedy, but it was a tragic accident and prosecuting her for it seems like an extreme overreach.

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