A string of murders in Seminole Heights led investigators to arrest Howell Emmanuel Donaldson III. The 24-year-old was the primary suspect in the killing of four people in the Tampa neighborhood. Police arrested Donaldson on November 29, 2017 after he had asked a coworker at the fast food joint where he worked to take a bag that contained the weapon allegedly used in the killings. Upon discovering the gun inside the bag, the coworker alerted a police officer in the restaurant. Moments later, the suspect was in custody.
The following week, investigators sought answers from the suspect’s parents regarding his background and mental health history. Howell Emmanuel’s parents, Howell Jr. and Rosita Donaldson, refused to communicate anything to prosecutors that could potentially incriminate their child, even if it meant they would face penalties themselves.
State Attorney Andrew Warren claimed that it is rare for people to refuse to answer questions; most people understand that they have a duty to do so and could face consequences for refusing. As a father, Mr. Warren sympathized with the parents; however, he noted that the victims’ families also had a right to information that would help them understand why the suspect killed their loved ones. Mr. and Mrs. Donaldson had investigative immunity when they were questioned, meaning that investigators would not have been able to use anything they said against them.
On December 7th, Judge Margaret Taylor ordered Howell Donaldson Jr. and his wife to return to court to express why she should not hold them in civil contempt of court. While Florida law permits spouses to refuse to testify against each other, protection for the parent-child relationship is absent.
Understanding Parent-Child Privilege
Only a few states recognize some form of parent-child privilege which protects parents from testifying against their own children (Idaho, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Minnesota, and New York). Although many legal professionals and civilians support a parent-child privilege, courts generally come out against it, especially in cases involving adult children.
Reasons to Recognize Parent-Child Privilege
Many attorneys have proposed enacting a statutory parent-child communication privilege by Congress and state legislatures to promote and protect the important family values of trust and open communication between parents and their children. Children often turn to their parents for help during difficult situations. Protecting the parent-child relationship would ensure that children can continue to confide in their parents without them fearing their confessions will be used against them.
Others do not believe that the parent-child relationship needs such protection and worry about the precedent establishing the privilege would set. For example, some children are raised by and thus closer to their aunts and uncles or grandparents; would these parties also be protected by the privilege? Where would one draw the line?
Many factors must be carefully considered before we determine that establishing the parent-child privilege will ultimately benefit the greater good.
Update on the Donaldson Case
At this time, Howell Emmanuel Donaldson III has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder. Donaldson may face the death penalty if he is convicted of the charges against him. Florida is one of several states that still employs the death penalty, which is reserved for “the worst of the worst” offenses.
If your child finds him or herself in a complicated legal situation, whether he or she is a juvenile or adult, you can rely on The Law Office of Gabriel & Gabriel to provide close personal attention to your child’s case. Attorney Brian Gabriel defends criminal charges throughout West Palm Beach and has been doing so for over 30 years. He will thoroughly examine all the evidence the prosecution has against your child and uncover evidence of his own to present your child in the most favorable light. Call 561-622-5575 or contact us online to set up a free consultation.