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A South Carolina woman who left her 9-year-old daughter alone at a public park while she went to her job at McDonalds was arrested and charged with a felony.
Debra Harrell, 46, of North Augusta, was arrested after confessing to regularly leaving her daughter in the park while she worked at a McDonald's a mile-and-a-half away. According to CNN, Harrell had given her daughter a cell phone and a key to their house, which was about a six-minute walk from the park.
The arrest is causing many to ask: Is leaving a 9-year-old child in a public park illegal?
Unlawful Conduct Toward a Child
Under South Carolina law, it is unlawful for a parent, guardian, or other person responsible for the welfare of a child to "willfully abandon a child" or "place the child at unreasonable risk of harm."
Police were alerted to Harrell's daughter after a parent at the park asked the child where her mom was, and the child replied that her mom was at work.
In addition to arresting Harrell for unlawful conduct toward a child, Harrell's daughter was also placed in the custody of the Department of Social Services.
Harrell was released on bond the day after her July 1 arrest, Business Insider reports. She was fired from her job at McDonald's last week, but it's not clear why.
Potential Punishment: Up to 10 Years in Prison
In South Carolina, unlawful conduct toward a child is a felony. If convicted, Harrell could be sentenced to as many as 10 years in prison.
In general, child neglect laws vary from state to state. Many states have general guidelines regarding when a child can be left alone, taking into account not just the child's age but also the child's maturity and surroundings.
South Carolina state law sets no specific age at which children can legally be left unattended, which means prosecutors will most likely need to show that the child was somehow placed at risk.
An attorney who agreed to take Harrell's case pro bono told CNN that it was "absurd to make this insinuation that she's abandoned at the park. This is a very independent child."