Child Dies in a Hot Car – Is It An Accident or a Crime?

Every summer, we see the headlines: Child dies after being left in a hot car. Whether or not this tragic event then leads to a criminal prosecution depends on many factors.

Accidental Death

Many times, the parents or other adults who leave the child in the hot car are not charged with criminal offenses if the child dies. The tragedy usually has a greater impact on the parent or the child than it does on the community. If the matter is accidental, the child might die quickly in a hot car with no air conditioning, water, or other means to prevent heat from damaging their body. The accident also usually includes the parent or other adult leaving for a short time to shop or take care of another personal matter.

The Intentional Action

To punish their children or keep them from being annoying while shopping, parents may leave their children in a hot car while they shop or run other errands. If the heat is too much, the youth may suffer heatstroke, dehydration, or other injuries while they are in the car. Internal damage can result from injuries that are not treated with water, no way to cover the skin from the sun’s heat, or anything to cool it. This type of damage is rare in young people, and prolonged exposure to the sun can cause severe skin irritations.

The Crime of a Child’s Death

Many times, an adult’s actions can lead to the accidental death of a child. Even in such cases, law enforcement may bring criminal charges against the adult. However, many will not do so when it appears as devastating to the adult facing the death of the youth. Even if police and prosecuting attorneys lack empathy for the parents or other adults, criminal charges are rarely necessary unless there is a state law or factor that requires it. If the child is left in a hot car for more than an hour, it could be considered a crime if it results in the death of the child.

The Adult’s Actions

The heat can cause physical harm if the child is left in the car for more than an hour. Many states consider it criminal neglect to leave a child in a car longer than for a few minutes. Some prosecuting lawyers and local law enforcement may charge the adult with negligent homicide if the youth is in the car for longer than a significantly short time in the heat or cold.

Factors in the Case

If law enforcement charges an adult with the death or injury to the child due to heat or cold, it usually means that certain factors are present that could lead to a case in court. If the adult leaves the child in the car more than an hour, it is possible to be charged with negligent homicide. Harsh charges can be brought against the adult if the child is left in the car for more than four hours in heat, without water, or without a way out. Nonetheless, if there are no additional facts in the case, local law enforcement may not have any other options and charges will not be filed.

Penalties for the Death of a Child

The severity of the charges may mean that a conviction could be possible. It is important to understand the difference between misdemeanor and felony charges. A misdemeanor of different classes can result in a parent or adult spending up to one year in prison with possible fines and other penalties. A felony conviction could result in harsher punishments that could lead to a lengthy sentence in state prison.

Legal Support for an Adult in the Death of a Child in a Hot Car

If the child is killed by being left in a hot vehicle for a long time, the adult will need to hire a criminal defense attorney to represent him or her. It is important to argue against the charges to avoid a conviction.

Updated 12/9/2021