State of Tennessee v. Jacqueline Crank

State of Tennessee v. Jacqueline Crank

The defendant, who was indicted for child neglect based upon her failure to obtain medical treatment for her daughter, challenged the constitutionality of the “spiritual treatment” exemption within the child abuse and neglect statute. The exemption, which is set out in Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-15-402(c), precludes the prosecution of parents who “provide[] treatment by spiritual means through prayer alone in accordance with the tenets or practices of a recognized church or religious denomination by a duly accredited practitioner thereof in lieu of medical or surgical treatment.” The defendant moved to dismiss the charge against her,claiming that the exemption was unconstitutionallyvague and violated the Establishment and Equal Protection Clauses of the Federal Constitution, as well as the comparable provisions of the Tennessee Constitution. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss. Following a bench trial, the trial court determined that the defendant did not qualify for the spiritual treatment exemption, found her guilty of child neglect, and imposed a sentence of eleven months and twenty-nine days, all to be served on unsupervised probation. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction without addressing the merits of the constitutional claims. We hold that the spiritual treatment exemption is not unconstitutionally vague. Because the exemption may be elided without invalidating the remainder of the child abuse and neglect statute, the defendant’s remaining constitutional challenges, even if successful, would not afford her relief. As a result, we decline to address whether the exemption violates the Establishment or Equal Protection Clauses of the Federal Constitution or the corresponding provisions in article I, section 3 and article XI, section 8 of the Tennessee Constitution. The judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals is affirmed.

Authoring Judge: 
Justice Gary R. Wade
Originating Judge: 
Judge E. Eugene Eblen
Date Filed: 
Friday, February 13, 2015