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Leaving Small Children Unattended in Vehicle for Any Period of Time Is Child Abuse
The two most frequently charged sections of the Penal Code for Child Abuse are Penal Code Section 273(a)a and Penal Code Section 273(a)b. Penal Code Section 273(a)a covers conduct by a defendant where the individual willfully causes a child great bodily harm, suffering or death. This section carries a maximum of 6 years in prison but can also be charged as a misdemeanor. It usually covers serious cases of abuse where children are severely beaten or otherwise injured. Penal Code Section 273(a) b covers cases where the child may not actually sustain any injury or suffering but was put in a position of danger. This section is often referred to informally as the child endangerment law. It commonly covers cases where a parent is driving intoxicated with a child in the car or when a parent leaves a child unattended in vehicle while the parent goes shopping or runs an errand.
A recent case in Arizona had a father leave his infant child in the vehicle while he went to work for an hour and smoked marijuana with a friend. The outside temperature was at 100 degrees meaning inside the car it was even hotter. The child was non-responsive when the father found him and efforts to revive the baby failed. He was pronounced dead at the hospital. This man will probably be charged with manslaughter.
Sometimes parents in a hurry will leave their children in a car while they run an errand. This is never a good idea no matter how inconvenient it is for the child to go with the parent. I also hear parents say they left the child in the car because he was napping and they locked the doors. The problem with this is that the child could be subject to harm from heat in the car or other injury; also, what if something happens to the parent and no one knows that a child is alone in the car? Regardless of the reason, in Orange County, unattended children left in vehicles even for short periods of time can result in an arrest for Penal Code Section 273(a) b. Obviously this is a very ugly charge since it falls under the child abuse statute.
In some cases I have been able to get the case dismissed if there are factors in mitigation like the parent was relatively close by and the time the child was left alone was relatively short. Also, the fact that the child was napping may be something considered in mitigation although it is not a defense. A poorly thought out decision is better then no thought being given to leaving the child unattended. Often passersby will see the child unattended and contact authorities. Taking parenting classes also often helps get a favorable result.
The bottom line is that regardless of the season infants should never be left unattended in a car and older children should only be left unattended if they will not be harmed or harm themselves.