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Virginia Beach Estate Planning Lawyer / Blog / Estate Planning / Wife Found Guilty of Second-Degree Reckless Murder of Her Husband for Failing to Summon Medical Treatment

Wife Found Guilty of Second-Degree Reckless Murder of Her Husband for Failing to Summon Medical Treatment


A recent case in Kansas, State of Kansas v. Carol Sue Burris, involved a wife facing criminal charges for failing to summon help for her dependent husband. She was found guilty of mistreatment of a dependent adult and second-degree reckless murder. The case recently went before the Kansas Supreme Court where justices were asked to clarify what legal duty a spouse has to provide medical care or summon medical care for the other spouse.

In the case of Carol Sue Burris, her husband, Michael, had dementia and other health issues. Mrs. Burris was charged, as Mr. Burris’s sole caregiver, with neglecting his care and preventing others from helping with his care. Mr. Burris ultimately died from pneumonia with severe emaciation as a major contributing factor.

During her trial, Mrs. Burris was convicted of being responsible for the death of her husband. However, she appealed the conviction and the appeal went all the way to the state supreme court. During her appeal, she argued that her conviction for reckless but unintentional second-degree murder should be overturned because she argued that it was based solely on her failure to provide care. In other words, her conviction was based entirely on actions she did not take as opposed to actions that she did take. Her argument assumed that she had no duty to provide care for her husband because she had never received any direction to provide care.

In addition to arguing that she had no duty of care, the wife claimed that the prosecutor made several improper and inflammatory statements during the trial. Mrs. Burris claimed that this happened on at least three occasions.

Supreme Court rules wife is legally responsible for her husband’s care 

The Supreme Court of the State of Kansas upheld the lower court’s decision. The justices ruled that Mrs. Burris was legally obligated to provide her husband with medical and subsistent care while he was unable to do so himself. The lower court determined that as the wife of Mr. Burris, she voluntarily assumed the care of her husband. She had a designated role as a caregiver under Kansas law. The Supreme Court ruled that the prosecutor’s remarks during the trial were within the scope of allowable rhetoric and did not constitute an unfair prejudicing of the jury. Convictions for both the mistreatment of a dependent adult and second-degree reckless murder were both upheld.

Ultimately, the court concluded that an individual can be held criminally liable for failure to act if that person owes a legal duty of care to a dependent adult. While the precedent is limited to Kansas, the same result may have occurred here in Virginia. Ultimately, an individual who assumes the primary care of a dependent adult owes them a legal duty of care.

Talk to a Virginia Beach Elder Law Attorney Today 

The Law Office of Angela N. Manz represents the interests of seniors in various elder law matters such as estate planning and long-term care planning. Call our Virginia Beach estate planning lawyers today to schedule an appointment, and we can begin discussing your needs right away.



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