The Wisconsin Supreme Court will hear on Tuesday the appeal of Leilani and Dale Neumann, a Weston couple convicted of reckless homicide in 2009 after they chose to pray over their sick 11-year-old daughter instead of seeking medical attention, resulting in the girl's death.
Lawyers for the couple are requesting that the court overturn their clients' homicide convictions on the grounds of a Wisconsin state statute that protects parents from child abuse and neglect charges should they choose religious treatment over medical help.
Byron Lichstein, appellate attorney for Leilani Neumann, told The Associated Press Tuesday that the state statute does not distinguish what kind of situation would merit medical help over spiritual healing.
"People are supposed to be able to know when their conduct becomes illegal," said Lichstein, who teaches at the Criminal Appeals Project and the Wisconsin Innocence Project of the University of Wisconsin.
"How do you know when you've moved beyond that?" he asked.
Leilani and Dale Neumann were found guilty by two separate juries in 2009 of second-degree reckless homicide after their 11-year-old daughter, Madeline Kara Neumann, fell ill in March 2008.
Neumann suffered from a treatable case of diabetes, but instead of seeking medical help for her condition lasting two weeks, the child's parents sought to cure the illness through prayer, as they told the court they felt she was suffering from a spiritual attack.
The court ordered the couple to each serve 30 days in jail a year for the next six years during their 10-year probation, and they must take their two surviving children to the doctor should any serious medical issues arise.
According to the AP, Wisconsin's State Justice Department argued that spiritual healing is only protected under the state statute if the child's health is not in serious jeopardy; once there is a possibility of death occurring, the state believes that the life of the child overrides the power of spiritual healing.
The State Justice Department also argued that the Neumanns were aware that their child was in grave danger the evening before she passed away, as they sent an email to friends and family requesting prayers because their daughter had slipped into a coma.
As the Wisconsin State Journal reports, the court will determine on Tuesday whether the Neumanns were given "fair notice" of their legal obligation to seek medical attention for their daughter after she fell ill.
As ABC News reported at the time of the daughter's death, the Neumanns had ties to the "Unleavened Bread Ministries", a small church known to forgo medical attention for prayer.
The Neumanns reportedly contacted an elder of the ministry requesting prayer for their daughter shortly before she died.
Although faith healing is practiced in some faiths, not all put prayer on par with medical attention.
Currently, 18 states provide legal protection to parents should they choose prayer for healing over medical care for their children.
Critics contend that the complex gray areas of faith healing have resulted in multiple lawsuits and need clarification.
"The sentences tend to be halfway punishments where you have relatively mild penalties imposed on parents who are found to be legally guilty of having caused a child's death," Shawn Peters, a lecturer at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, told The New York Times at the time of the 2009 trial.
"Wisconsin is not unique," Peters added. "Lots of states have similarly murky laws in this area that need to be clarified."