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As summer is officially here, more stories of individuals leaving children in hot vehicles start to appear. Even more unfortunate are the horrific stories of children who perish as a result of heatstroke due to rising ambient temperatures while trapped in the vehicle.

While it is extremely rare for the adult to intend the child harm, in many cases, the individual responsible for the child, in fact, intended to leave the child in the vehicle, and just may not have appreciated the danger of doing so.

Regardless of the circumstances leading to criminal charges for leaving a child in a vehicle, the individual responsible for doing so should engage the services of a criminal defense attorney to assist with the legal ramifications.

Recently, a woman in Oregon inadvertently left her 21-month old daughter in a vehicle and realized a parent’s ultimate nightmare when her daughter succumbed to heatstroke.

In this case, the mother’s attorney is asserting that the death, while obviously unfortunate, is an accident and that the child’s mother truly did not realize that she left her daughter in the vehicle, believing until she saw her daughter’s lifeless body, that she had taken her to daycare.

A discussion of California’s Unattended Child in Motor Vehicle Safety Act (USMVSA), as well as potential arguments against prosecution, will follow below.

is it illegal to leave kids in the car

What Age Can You Leave a Child in The Car?

In 2002, the California Legislature passed the USMVSA, which made it a fineable offense to leave a child, aged 6 or younger, in a vehicle without supervision of someone 12 years of age or older if: 

  1. doing so presents a significant risk to the child’s health and/or safety, or
  2. the vehicle is running or the keys are left in the ignition.

Importantly, this Act does not prevent the individual responsible for the child from being charged with any other provision of the California Penal Code, such as manslaughter.

In any event, there are a number of precautions an individual responsible for a child can take to ensure that leaving a child in a vehicle unattended does not occur, even accidentally, including:

  • Practicing a “Look Before Lock” routine, to get into the habit of looking in the back seat before locking the vehicle;
  • Avoiding distractions;
  • Scheduling a call as a reminder to ensure the child arrives at his/her destination; and
  • Placing a reminder in the vehicle to check the back seat at one’s destination, such as placing a stuffed toy in the front seat, and getting into the habit of putting it in the child’s car seat every time the vehicle is emptied.

Are There Any Defenses to Leaving a Child Unattended in a Car?

While many believe there is no excuse for leaving a child unattended in a vehicle, there are countless stories of parents making honest mistakes that, unfortunately, have led to devastating consequences.

In some cases, children can remain so quiet or sleep so peacefully that it is easy to forget they are in the back seat. In other cases, an individual’s daily routine has changed, which can lead to honest forgetfulness about dropping off or picking up a child from daycare.

what age can you leave a child in the car

Unfortunately, the heat of the summer does not concern itself with the reasons why a child has been left unattended in a vehicle, and, as illustrated above, disastrous results can occur. While it will never erase the tragic loss of a child to vehicular heatstroke, an experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to help the individual responsible for the child if his/her actions were a truly honest mistake.

In addition, evidence the accused was not responsible for the child or caused the dangerous condition could also be used to combat this charge.

Should I Hire a Lawyer If I’m Criminally Charged for Leaving a Child in a Car?

If you have been charged with violating the Unattended Child in Motor Vehicle Safety Act, contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys at the Los Angeles law firm Manshoory Law Group, APC as soon as possible.

Although the results may, unfortunately, be tragic, extenuating circumstances may mitigate any punishment you can receive, and the attorneys at Manshoory will use their expertise to build a defense to obtain the best possible results.

Attorneys are available 24/7 to take your call. Contact us today for an initial consultation.

Shaheen Manshoory
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