Today, Your Legal Corner will discuss “Reasons not to leave your child in the car alone.”
We have officially entered the holiday season, making our shopping lists, decorating our homes and attending holiday parties. While celebrating the holidays can be fun, sometimes one can become preoccupied and forget that the true meaning of the season is about spending moments – with friends, family, and especially children.
One favorite holiday moment is watching the holiday movie Home Alone. It is the story of a big family going away for the holiday that forgets they have left their young child, played by Macaulay Culkin, home alone. The child then must fend off bumbling burglars trying to break into the house until his family returns.
While fiction, the movie depicts an all too common moment of a child being left unattended. Especially during the holidays, some parents may make the mistake of leaving young children if only for a moment in their vehicles while they quickly shop at their local mall or convenience store.
Whether or not leaving a child in a car alone is child endangerment depends on numerous factors. Consider the legal consequences of what constitutes child endangerment as stated below.
Civil vs. Criminal Action
An incident endangering the welfare of a child may result in the filing of a civil action as well as criminal charges against the parent or guardian entrusted with the supervision of the child. The Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P) can file a civil action alleging abuse or neglect.
If a court finds a child has been abused or neglected, they may order the removal of a child pending a further determination as to whether the parents’ rights should be terminated or whether services should be provided in order to preserve and reunite the family.
Whether an incident also results in the filing of criminal charges depends on whether there has been a violation of NJS 2c: 24-4. A person having a legal duty for the care of a child who engages in conduct that results in conduct which impairs the morals or causes the child harm, can be found guilty of child endangerment.
Depending on the conduct, child endangerment can be a crime of the second degree that carries up to a ten-year state prison sentence.
Totality of the Circumstances
In a recent decision by the NJ Supreme Court, the court found that leaving a young child in a car is legal in some cases if the parent or guardian takes precautionary measures. It must be decided on a case-by-case basis.
Some of the factors the court found relevant were the distance between the vehicle and the location visited, the parent’s ability to keep the vehicle in view, the length of time the child was left unattended, age of child and the temperature inside and outside the car.
One judge commented that a parent invites substantial peril when leaving a young child alone in a motor vehicle that is out of the parent’s sight, no matter how briefly.
During this holiday season, celebrate each moment. Keep your children safe and happy!
Till next time, God bless, keep smiling, when Your Legal Corner, will discuss “Drug Court.”
Victoria M. Dalton is an attorney with the law offices of Hoffman DiMuzio.
Send questions, or comments to Victoria at [email protected]. Or call 856-845-8243.
Please note that Your Legal Corner was created to provide educational articles about the law and is not legal advice. Click here to view more Your Legal Corner articles.