Every spring and summer, there's a rash of infant injuries and deaths caused by heat exposure after the children are left unattended in hot cars while parents shop, work, or attend to other business. Even when a child doesn't die, the legal consequences can be extreme. Before you make a similar mistake, this is what you should consider.
There is no safe way to leave a child alone in a car.
Even when the temperatures seem mild, the temperature inside a car can climb quickly. The car acts like a greenhouse, and temperatures inside one can climb 35 degrees hotter than the outside temperature in just a half-hour's time. Where even an adult would have trouble handling that kind of temperature climb, small children can't regulate their body temperatures as well as adults—under the right circumstances, an infant can die of hyperthermia within 15 minutes.
You can expect child endangerment charges at a minimum.
Even if your child is entirely unharmed by the experience, you can expect a severe response by the law, including charges of child endangerment. A conviction for child endangerment doesn't require the prosecution to prove that you intended to harm the child—or even that your child was injured—only that you put your child at substantial risk of harm.
A conviction can result in fines, jail time, loss of professional licenses, and the destruction of your reputation. Depending on the state that you live in, and the prosecutor's zeal, you could be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony. In addition, your child (and any other children you have) could be removed from your care by Children's Services.
You could also be charged with child abuse or murder.
If your child dies, you could also face additional charges of child abuse, which is generally more serious than mere endangerment. In some areas, child abuse that results in death is punishable by long prison terms. For example, a Colorado woman is facing 16-48 years in prison over the hot-car death of her 13-month old son, after leaving him in the car while she went to work.
You could also be charged with intentionally causing your child's death. In a case that has gained national attention, Justin Harris was charged with murder after leaving his 22-month son in the family's SUV while he was at work. While supporters claim that it was an accident, prosecutors say that they believe it was an intentional act by a man that wanted a child-free life.
This shows the subjectivity in the way that charges related to a hot-car death can be applied—the issue is an emotional one for many and prosecutors may respond with the most severe charges possible.
Obviously, the best way to avoid any charges—or tragedy—is to make sure that you always check the vehicle when you exit, to make sure that you don't leave your child behind accidentally. And, of course, never leave your child unattended in a car on purpose—even for a few minutes. If you do make a mistake, contact a criminal defense attorney immediately to discuss your case. Contact a business, such as the Kalasnik Law Office, for more information.