Finding one or more children dead after accidentally leaving them in a hot car is every parent's worst nightmare. Unfortunately, the parents of approximately three dozen children across the country, including Wisconsin, experience this nightmare every year. At the Mayer Law Office, we know that if you are a parent in this scenario, you are probably filled with feelings of shock and confusion. Adding to the confusion is the uncertainty of not knowing whether you will face criminal charges for your tragic mistake.
According to the New York Times, prosecutors only about one-third of parents involved in the hot car death of a child. When authorities do press charges, some are misdemeanors like child endangerment, while others involve involuntary manslaughter and other felony counts. In approximately 11% of cases, the judge and jury do not convict the parent(s), and 43% of parents involved in hot car deaths never face any charges at all.
During an investigation into the case of a hot car death, it can be difficult for prosecutors to find enough evidence to prove that the parent(s) acted with intent to harm the child or children. One prosecutor in New York state investigated such a case for two months, and upon finding no evidence of malfeasance, concluded that while the father did wrong by forgetting that his infant son was in the car, he had committed no crime.
The panic, shock and remorse that parents usually demonstrate upon realizing that they have endangered and possibly killed their children by leaving them in a hot car sometimes goes to contradict any case that the prosecution would try to build that the parents acted with criminal intent. A prosecutor in Ohio observes that the feelings of guilt that the parent is going to have to live with for the rest of his or her life is worse than any punishment the justice system could impose.
Nevertheless, sometimes prosecutors believe that they have enough evidence to bring criminal charges, and the grieving parents must defend themselves in court even as they deal with their own feelings of self-recrimination. More information about criminal defense is available on our website.