NJ Supreme Court Considers Whether Leaving Child in Car is Abuse
A New Jersey Appeals court ruled that a mother of four was guilty of abuse and neglect after leaving her sleeping 19-month-old strapped in a car seat with the car running while she spent 10 minutes at a South Plainfield store in 2009. She is now asking the New Jersey Supreme Court to overturn that decision. Four years have passed since the incident and there has been no harm to any of her children since that time. Although she admits she made a mistake, the important issue for her is that she not be placed on the abuse and neglect registry. Once she is placed on that registry her name cannot be removed and there is no benefit to the child.
Currently, New Jersey has an “endangering the welfare of a minor” statute which includes leaving a child unattended. Child endangerment is a crime in every state. However, the law on child abuse does not specifically state that leaving a child in a car unattended is an act of abuse or neglect. Deputy Attorney Erin O’Leary asked the Justices to affirm the decision of the Appellate Division. She argued that parents have been found guilty of abuse and neglect after leaving their children unattended at home while they went out and the parents should be held to the same standard when leaving a child alone in a parked car.
The relevant New Jersey statute says a parent can be found guilty of abuse or neglect if they fail to exercise a “minimum degree of care”. However, the statute does not define “minimum degree of care”. The Justices will make that decision.