Three Crimes You Could Be Charged With For Leaving A Child In A Car… So Just Don’t Do It.

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Suzanne is watching her toddler granddaughter while the parents are out of town. She decides to take her granddaughter to the mall. When she gets there, the little girl is asleep in the car seat. She has one return to make at a store so she cracks the windows, parks in the shade and hurries inside to make the return. When she comes back ten minutes later, the police are outside of her car and arrest her.

Janice has to grab some groceries for the family dinner. Her six month old is sleeping in the car seat and has not had his morning nap. She runs inside leaving him in the car. When she returns, she is met by the police and a Child Protective Services social worker. She later learns CPS has made a finding against her which would preclude her from working with children in her career

One of the most common types of child endangerment cases I am contacted about are parents who leave children unattended in a vehicle.

Anyone who leaves a child under 6 years old alone in a vehicle can be charged under California Vehicle Code section 15620. Section 15620 states: (a) A parent, legal guardian, or other person responsible for a child who is 6 years of age or younger may not leave that child inside a motor vehicle without being subject to the supervision of a person who is 12 years of age or older, under either of the following circumstances: (1) Where there are conditions that present a significant risk to the child’s health or safety; (2) When the vehicle’s engine is running or the vehicle’s keys are in the ignition, or both.

Another charge can be Child Endangerment under Penal Code section 273a.

Section 273a states: 273a. (a) Any person who, under circumstances or conditions likely to produce great bodily harm or death, willfully causes or permits any child to suffer, or inflicts thereon unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering, or having the care or custody of any child, willfully causes or permits the person or health of that child to be injured, or willfully causes or permits that child to be placed in a situation where his or her person or health is endangered, shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or in the state prison for two, four, or six years; And, (b) Any person who, under circumstances or conditions other than those likely to produce great bodily harm or death, willfully causes or permits any child to suffer, or inflicts thereon unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering, or having the care or custody of any child, willfully causes or permits the person or health of that child to be injured, or willfully causes or permits that child to be placed in a situation where his or her person or health may be endangered, is guilty of a misdemeanor.

Finally, any parent or guardian who endangers a child can be subject to section 300, subdivision (b) of the Welfare and Institutions Code, resulting in a juvenile court petition being filed against them.

Section 300 (b) deals with when a child has suffered or there is a substantial risk that the child will suffer, serious physical harm or illness, as a result of the failure or inability of his or her parent or guardian to adequately supervise or protect the child, or the willful or negligent failure of the child’s parent or guardian to adequately supervise or protect the child from the conduct of the custodian with whom the child has been left.

I often advise parents not to leave there children alone in a car without proper supervision, even if just for a moment. You can face any of these charges or, worse yet, something bad could happen while your child is unsupervised that you would never have intended.