Leaving a Child Alone in a Car: Abuse or Neglect?

Posted November 24th, 2015 by .

Categories: Family Law.

child abuse leaving child in car anthony carboneThe baby is asleep comfortably strapped into his car seat.  There is a temptation to leave him there as you run into the store to pick up a gallon of milk.  After all, you can see the car from the store and you have allowed for proper ventilation.  Is leaving a child alone in a car considered abuse or neglect?  You might be surprised at how New Jersey’s courts feel on the subject.

Child Endangerment

Abuse and neglect of children are defined in the New Jersey statutes.  Of course, all statutes are subject to legal interpretation, which is left up to the judiciary.  The latest ruling on the subject may come as a surprise to you.

The New Jersey courts actually decided a case with a similar fact pattern earlier this year.  According to a news article, a woman decided to go shopping, while she left her nineteen month daughter in the back seat of her car.  The child was not harmed in anyway, but the court ruled that the mother was guilty of child endangerment.  Essentially, it was wonderful that the baby escaped injury.  Nevertheless, the mom put the child at risk and therefore endangered her daughter.  The Appellate Division agreed with the lower court’s determination.

Not Necessarily Abuse or Neglect

The case against the mother did not stop at the Appellate courts.  Instead, the matter was brought to the Supreme Court.  The higher court acknowledged that no harm befell the child.  It further indicated that the circumstances of the case needed to be addressed.  The mother should be afforded the right to present the reasons she left her child in the car.

What does this mean exactly?  It could suggest that the law can involve some amount of flexibility.  First, all children under age eighteen are protected by child abuse and neglect laws.  There is no suggestion that a nineteen month old baby is old enough to be in the car.  However, is it neglectful to leave a teen in the car alone?

What about the reason the child was left in the car alone?  Is it abuse or neglect to run in for the child’s medication when you can clearly see the vehicle?  Is this different than the parent who speeds into the convenience store to pick up lottery tickets?  The latter might seem like a gamble.

Contact Us

At the Law Offices of Anthony Carbone, we recognize that parents are not provided with rule books and may make mistakes.   We can provide you with experienced legal advice concerning child abuse or neglect charges.  Contact us to schedule an appointment.

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