New Jersey’s Legal Approach to Leaving Unattended Children in Cars

Attention Parents in NJ: Leaving a Child Unattended in a Vehicle Can Put the Child’s Life at Risk and Have Serious Legal Ramifications

Avoid Legal Repercussions for Leaving Your Child Alone in the Car in New JerseyPeople’s busy lives sometimes cause distractions with serious consequences.  Leaving a child alone in a car is a life-threatening situation.  According to the National Safety Council, an average of nearly 40 children die annually, and others suffer permanent disabilities from experiencing heat stroke after having been left in a car alone.  The temperature outdoors of 80 degrees can heat a car’s internal temperature to 110 degrees in 20 minutes, 109 degrees in 40 minutes, and 123 degrees in an hour.  The higher the outdoor temperatures, the faster the heat in the car will rise.  Leaving small children, especially infants under the age of 12 months, can cause them to dehydrate quickly.  Kidney and heart damage can be caused by heat stroke. This can lead to hypoxia and, in the most drastic cases, cerebral palsy, permanent seizure disorders, or death.  Frigid temperatures can also cause serious injuries such as frostbite, leading to the loss of fingers and toes.  Due to their smaller body mass and less body fat, young children are more prone to hypothermia than adults.  Sitting in a small, confined space without being able to move can accelerate the effects of hypothermia.  Dehydration can also occur if the child is very young and is left in the car for a long time.  Some parents leave the car running with the air conditioning or heat on to keep the car’s interior comfortable, but an engine can overheat or otherwise malfunction and turn off.  Additionally, if the keys are in the ignition, someone may attempt to abscond with the vehicle.

When Leaving a Child Alone in a Car Rises to the Level of Child Endangerment in New Jersey

New Jersey law regarding this situation can be found in section N.J.S.A. 2C:24-4, which says that failure to exercise a minimum degree of care and conducting risky behaviors that can affect their child’s mental, physical, or emotional state is considered child endangerment.  The law is broad and does not stipulate a comprehensive set of specific circumstances. It is up to the Court to weigh the particular factors in each case.

Understanding How NJ Courts Decide Child Endangerment Cases

One of the most critical factors in this situation is the child’s age.  There isn’t a determined age the court considers more dangerous than the others, but a very young child would obviously present a riskier panorama.  As with the children’s age, the time they are left alone isn’t a set number.  Extended periods would be seen as more dangerous.  The weather conditions are also considered.  A car that is too hot or cold can risk children’s health.  A vehicle left in an unsafe, high-crime area could also be considered neglect, as the car could be stolen, the children could be kidnapped, or both.  Visibility is also an issue.  If the parent has sight of their car and their children, the neglect case is much weaker.  But if the distance between the parent and the vehicle is such that it is out of sight for the duration of the incident, it is more serious.

Why Every NJ Child Neglect Case Involving Children Unattended in Vehicles is Different

Child Endangerment and Neglect Charges when Children are Left Alone in Ocean County Cars Other than stating that a parent or adult responsible for a child under the age of 14 can be charged with child abuse and neglect, the law does not specify the terms under which neglect is decided; each case is decided on its merits.  Let’s look at some examples.

A man put his 3-month-old daughter in the car and drove to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription he needed.   On the way to the store, the baby fell asleep, and not wanting to disturb her, he ran in, leaving her in the car.  The weather was mild, and the vehicle was parked in the shade.  He was in and out in less than ten minutes.  Although not an ideal situation, the child was arguably not in danger.

In another example, a woman left her sixteen-month-old in her car for what was to have been a few minutes as she did her grocery shopping.  The car was parked near the entrance but was in the sun on an 80-degree day.  She took much longer than expected after running into a friend in the store and then encountering a long line at the checkout.  When she made it to her car 25 minutes later, the police and the witness who had called them were waiting for her.  Her baby was thirsty and sweating profusely but did not suffer any injuries.

Neither of these instances is acceptable.  A child should never be left alone; however, according to previous decisions made by the New Jersey courts, the factors of each case must be analyzed before a decision can be made.

Serious Legal Risks For Leaving a Child Unattended in New Jersey

Anyone parent or legal guardian who leaves a minor under 14 in a vehicle unsupervised can be charged with a petty disorderly person charge and assessed a fine of $500.  If the child suffers a mild injury, it could be a third degree indictable crime (felony) with a sentence of 3-5 years in jail and a fine of up to $15,000.  If a child were to suffer serious injuries, charges in the second degree could be applied, carrying from 5 to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $150,000.  Aside from criminal charges, DCPP frequently opens investigations in these types of cases, including home interviews, supervised visitation, required counseling, and parenting classes.

Need Legal Help With a Child Endangerment Case in Monmouth and Ocean County NJ? Contact Bronzino Law Firm for a Free Consultation

Unfortunately, everyone makes mistakes from time to time, and there are instances when they have serious consequences. No one wants to hurt their child or put them in danger. You love your children and care for, protect, and provide for them.  A lapse in judgment shouldn’t mean losing custody or going to jail.

The Bronzino Law Firm is dedicated to helping people like you in Brick, Sea Bright, Island Heights, Toms River, Beachwood, Neptune, Howell, Brielle, and across Ocean and Monmouth County who need an advocate. We will present the facts of your case, emphasizing the mitigating circumstances and reasons why you meant no harm to your children. We know each case is unique, and once your situation is explained, the court will better understand your reasoning.

Remember that each case is different.  The sooner we can start working on your case, the sooner you will have a solid defense to present in court.  Call us today at (732) 812-3102 to speak with an attorney or reach out to us online for your initial consultation.