KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Should a local pastor stand trial for child neglect because he failed to get medical treatment for a 15-year-old girl who was dying of cancer? The Tennessee Supreme Court is dealt with that question Wednesday.
Pastor Ariel Sherman and Jacqueline crank were charged with child neglect after the 2002 death of Crank's daughter Jessica.
It's been a long road for a misdemeanor case, but as lawyers argued today, the implications are far bigger than just this case.
It's a rare day when the Tennessee Supreme Court meets in Knoxville to hear arguments in a misdemeanor criminal case that was already dismissed by a judge in Loudon County. But this case, and the questions it raises, are that important.
Ariel Sherman's lawyer Don Bosch says, "Certainly, if the court reaches the question of who may have a duty to authorize care for a minor child, that's a very large question that has gained a lot of national attention in recent years."
This case gained national attention too. Jacqueline Crank and her spiritual advisor Reverend Ariel Sherman were charged with child neglect in 2002 when Crank's 15-year-old daughter Jessica died of cancer. Prosecutors say neither Crank nor Sherman got Jessica the medical care she needed.
Elizabeth Marney with the Tennessee Attorney General's Office says, "This defendant put himself in a situation to have a legal duty to this victim."
The state says Sherman has a duty because he publicly claimed he was Jessica's father. Sherman's lawyer denies that, saying even if he did, it still wouldn't matter legally.
Chief Justice William Barker says,"We have to set some limits here."
Bosch agrees, saying the limits should be where they've always been. Only parents and people in certain legal situations should be guilty of neglect if they fail to act. Bosch says going even a step further sets a dangerous precedent, placing anyone who comes into contact with a sick child in a tough position.
Bosch says, "What this case could signal might be a criminal responsibility for that person to scoop up a minor child that's not theirs and change the course of the decision that the parents made for that child."
The Supreme Court sometimes takes as long as six months to issue a written opinion, but this one may come sooner, because the chief justice is retiring in three months.
But as attorney Don Bosch said Wednesday, if the decision leads to a trial of his 80-year-old client, there could be several more years of appeals.
Jacqueline crank did not appeal the case to the Supreme Court.
She awaits trial on neglect charges in Loudon County, pending the outcome of Sherman's case.