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When is it criminal to leave a child in the car?




A woman secures a child in a rear-facing car seat in the back seat of a vehicle. Studies show that kids in rear-facing car seats are five times safer than those who face forward.
A woman secures a child in a rear-facing car seat in the back seat of a vehicle. Studies show that kids in rear-facing car seats are five times safer than those who face forward.
Courtesy of NHTSA

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A 22-month old toddler died of heat stroke last week in the suburbs of Atlanta after being left in his father’s car for seven hours. Medical examiners found that the child’s death was a homicide — the father has been charged with felony murder and second-degree child cruelty.

Hot summer weather often warrants warnings about the terrible consequences of leaving a child unattended in a hot car. Even on moderately warm days, a vehicle in the sun can heat up to fatal temperatures. Hyperthermia, or heat stroke, can cause serious injuries or fatalities. Parents who leave their children in the car often do so accidentally; an exhausted parent with an infant or toddler in their car’s backseat might understandably let their mind wander.

Parents involved in this type of case are frequently charged with criminal negligence. Even in happier cases in which the child sustains no injuries, a court may hold a parent responsible for reckless behavior. When is it criminal to leave a child in the car? Is age of the child a consideration? Time spent away from the vehicle? Is it negligence, or something more?

Guest:

Laurie L. Levenson, Professor of Law, David W. Burcham Chair of Ethical Advocacy, Loyola Law School

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