Over these past few summer months, as temperatures not only in South Florida but also around the country have been soaring, the offense of leaving one’s child in a hot car has been getting a lot of attention.
From a Georgia man being charged with murder in his son’s “hot car” death, to a woman being arrested for leaving her children in a car when she went into a building for a job interview, people all around the country have been opining about what should be done to stop this crime and what should be done to those by whom it is committed.
Our Palm Beach and Broward County criminal defense lawyers know that this issue receives a bit of a twist in South Florida, where temperatures can be scorching year-round, meaning anytime a child is left in a car (even for a few seconds) the parent or caretaker could theoretically be charged with child neglect.
Child neglect, as defined in s. 827.03 of the Florida State Statutes, refers in part to a caregiver’s failure/omission to provide a child with the care necessary to maintain the child’s physical health. This, in application, would cover a caregiver leaving a child in an unreasonably hot car for an unreasonable amount of time such that the child’s physical health would be negatively impacted as a result.
With the case in Georgia about which the country has been hearing for months, the harmful effects of leaving one’s child in a hot car are evident: the child can die from being overheated. But has this panic over the risks of leaving children in hot cars gone from cautionary to persecutory? Often times, a parent doesn’t have a choice: they just have to let a child sit in a car for a minute or two while they run into a building to, say, interview for a job. Not having a job currently, they don’t have the money to pay for a babysitter, and leaving their child at home alone isn’t an option either, for you can be charged with child neglect for doing that as well.
As our Palm Beach and Broward County criminal defense lawyers kow, in Florida especially, where summer temperatures regularly reach 80 or 90 degrees fahrenheit, anyone who leaves their child in a carseat momentarily while they go to attend to something (whether it’s running back into the house for a forgotten purse, running into the bank to cash a check, running into the supermarket for a carton of milk, etc.), faces the threat of being arrested, charged with child neglect (in this case a third-degree felony), and punishment of up to 5 years in prison and/or $5,000 in fines. That isn’t right. That isn’t justice.
If the goal of child neglect laws is to maintain the wellbeing of the child, how is it that removing the child from a parent by sentencing a good parent to prison, for leaving a child in a car momentarily, achieves that? If anything, the way the laws are written leaves the possibility of ruining a young one’s childhood by making their parent a felon for no good reason.
Obviously leaving one’s child in a scorching hot car for hours is a serious matter; it should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and the parent(s) responsible should be punished accordingly. But we should not use blanket laws and blanket enforcements to punish parents who haven’t done anything unreasonable and whose children haven’t suffered as a result. This is because when you punish a parent for something as innocent as leaving a child in a car for a moment to run into a store to pick something up, you threaten the entire family.
If you have any questions about this or any other criminal defense issue, please contact our Palm Beach and Broward County criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert by calling 1-888-5-DEFEND (1-888-533-3363). We look forward to assisting you.