Maureen Anne Blake has been acquitted by the Virginia Supreme Court of her convictions for delivering her children late to school. The Court’s ruling on October 31, 2014 was significant for parents of school age children in Virginia because it clarifies that the compulsory school attendance law doesn’t apply to tardiness or absences from school.
Blake is a mother of three daughters living in Purcellville, Virginia who shares custody of her three children with her ex-husband. In December 2011 her daughters were 8, 10, and 11 and attended Lincoln Elementary School in Purcellville. On the school days Blake had custody she took her daughters to school in her car. During the seven weeks between Dec. 1, 2011 and Jan. 19, 2012 her children were late for school five times on days she had custody. They were generally late a few minutes but once for 20 minutes. She was charged on January 25, 2012 with three misdemeanor counts of violating Virginia’s compulsory school attendance law (Virginia Code § 22.1-254(A) as enforced by § 22.1-263.) — one count for each child being tardy five times.
Blake was charged based on the Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s contention that tardiness caused by a parent violated the school attendance law’s mandate that a custodial parent or guardian “… shall, during the period of each year the public schools are in session and for the same number of days and hours per day as the public schools, send such child to a public school or to a private, denominational, or parochial school …” Virginia Code § 22.1-254(A).
Blake filed a pretrial motion to dismiss the charges that argued the school attendance law did not apply to children who were a few minutes late. The judge denied the motion in ruling that Code § 22.1-254(A) applies to “tardiness and early departures.”
During Blake’s bench trial on February 29, 2012 in the Loudoun County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court the prosecution argued it didn’t have to prove she had any knowledge or intent to violate the attendance law, and that her guilt was proved beyond a reasonable doubt by her admission she brought her children to school late multiple times.
Blake’s defense was she did not knowingly violate the law and had no intention for her children to be tardy. She explained that some of the tardiness was due to the ADHD that she and one of her children suffers from, and others were caused by one of her daughters oversleeping, one of her daughters wanting to wear a particular item of clothing that she could not find, that Blake had to clean up spilled food, and that she misplaced her purse with her car keys.
The judge found Blake guilty of all three counts — agreeing with the prosecution that Blake’s admission of delivering her three children to school late on five occasions was sufficient evidence to find her guilty. She was sentenced to pay a fine of $1,000 for each count, totaling $3,000. The judge suspended the fine for one year on condition she didn’t commit any crimes and that her three children have no unexcused absences or tardy slips on their school records in that time.
Blake appealed on two grounds: First “that Code § 22.1-254 only mandates the enrollment of a child in school and neither a addresses nor prohibits tardiness.”; and, second, “the evidence did not support a finding that she knowingly and willfully failed to have the children timely appear at school.”
In November 2013 the Virginia Court of Appeals affirmed Blake’s convictions. The Court ruled it couldn’t address the scope of the school attendance statute because she did not preserve that argument for appeal, and that because she “was convicted and sentenced pursuant to Class 3 misdemeanors, the Commonwealth was not required to prove that she knowingly and willfully violated the compulsory attendance law, nor was the Commonwealth required to prove notice.” (Blake v. Commonwealth, No. 1751-12-4 (VA Ct. of Appeals, 11-19-2013)
Blake appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court, which granted review because her case involved an issue of significant precedential value. On October 31, 2014 the Supreme Court vacated Blake’s convictions in Blake v. Commonwealth, No. 140081 (VA Supreme Ct., 10-31-2014). The Court ruled that Code § 22.1-254(A)’s use of the word “send” regarding a child attending school doesn’t apply to either tardiness or absences from school. The Court stated:
“We therefore conclude that the requirement that a parent, guardian, or person having control or charge of a minor “send” that child to school requires that such child be enrolled in a school program fulfilling the requirements of Code § 22.1-254(A), including that the program meet for as many days and hours each year as the public school year. We further conclude that, while enrollment necessarily contemplates general attendance, the statute cannot be used to prosecute instances of tardiness.
For the aforementioned reasons, we hold that Code § 22.1-254 cannot be used to prosecute tardiness. Accordingly, we will reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and enter final judgment vacating the defendant’s convictions.”
The Court’s ruling de facto acquitted Maureen Blake because she was prosecuted and convicted of a non-existent crime.
Maureen Anne Blake wrote on her Facebook page after the Virginia Supreme Court’s ruling:
“Alexis Downing of the Loudoun County Public Defenders Office really is the one with the big win today! She won a precedent setting case. Had she not been diligent and zealous in her work the lower court decision could have adversely affected many parents! My kids number of tardys are not even close (in numbers) to some of the “chronic” offenders who are the ones that should be most grateful their limitation of failure to arrive on time to school has not been made criminal.”
Click here to read the Virginia Supreme Court’s ruling in Blake v. Commonwealth, No. 140081 (VA Supreme Ct., 10-31-2014).