The death of a child is tragic, but it is not always considered a crime. Knowingly leaving a child alone in a car is, by itself, illegal in 19 states. And if a child is injured or dies after being left unattended on purpose, a parent or guardian could be charged with negligence or even murder. But what if it was an accident?
Such appears to be the case for the New York man who dropped his 4-year-old son off at day care, but forgot to drop off his 1-year-old twins as well and the pair died in his car while he was at work. As The New York Times points out, not every accidental death is treated the same. "[S]ome parents who forget their children in cars face no charges," according to the Times, "others are charged with felonies like involuntary manslaughter and still others are charged with misdemeanors, like child endangerment." While prosecutors have put the New York father's criminal case on hold, here are five recent cases that did result in criminal charges:
A 19-year-old Indiana man pleaded guilty to neglect of a dependent resulting in death and received 10 years probation for leaving his 3-month-old in a car for two hours while he was with a friend. Police found the child in the car, where the internal temperature reportedly reached 119 degrees.
An Illinois man apparently strapped his 23-month-old son in a car in the driveway, went inside, and passed out drunk. The boy's mother found him when she returned from work a couple hours later and called 911, but it was too late. The father eventually pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to four years in jail.
Spending the day exchanging lewd text messages with an underage mistress is not going to convince prosecutors that leaving your son to die in a hot car is a mistake. The Georgia man was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole plus 32 years for murder, cruelty to children, and sexual exploitation of a minor.
Another parent who left their child in a car in the driveway while they were intoxicated inside the house, a Kentucky woman pleaded guilty to lesser manslaughter charges and was released from prison after her murder conviction was overturned. She claims she forgot to unstrap the child from his car seat before going into the house and getting high on Xanax and marijuana.
According to police reports, someone told the mother they heard the girls crying in the car and asked if she wanted to bring the girls inside. "No, it's fine," she allegedly responded. "They'll cry themselves to sleep." Doctors say the girls, 1- and 2-years-old, passed out from heat exhaustion, and went through excruciating pain before dying at the hospital 40 hours after they arrived. The mother pleaded guilty to two counts of abandoning a child, causing imminent danger of death, bodily injury or physical or mental impairment, and two counts of injury to a child, recklessly causing serious bodily injury or serious mental deficiency.