According to statistics compiled by Jan Null of the Department of Meteorology & Climate Science at San Jose State University for the website No Heat Stroke, 839 children have died due to Pediatric Vehicular Heatstroke (PVH) since 1998. This total included 42 pediatric vehicular heatstroke deaths in 2019 and 53 in 2018 with an annual average of 38 for every year since 1998.
Texas is a state that makes it a criminal offense for a parent or legal guardian to leave a child unattended in a motor vehicle. Criminal charges may be enhanced to more serious crimes when a child suffers injuries as the result of being left alone in a motor vehicle.
If you or your loved one were arrested for allegedly leaving a child in a motor vehicle in the Dallas area, it will be in your best interest to retain legal counsel right away. Try to make sure that you speak to an attorney before you talk to the police.
Do not wait to call the Law Offices of Richard C. McConathy. Our firm will help you understand all of your legal options as soon as you call (972) 233-5700 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.
Under Texas Penal Code § 22.10, a person commits the crime of leaving a child in a vehicle if they intentionally or knowingly leave a child in a motor vehicle for longer than five minutes, knowing that the child is:
- younger than seven years of age; and
- not attended by an individual in the vehicle who is 14 years of age or older.
Leaving a child in a vehicle is a Class C misdemeanor, but alleged offenders may face enhanced charges when leaving a child in a vehicle results in injuries or death. For example, a prosecutor could charge an alleged offender with abandoning or endangering a child, and Texas Penal Code § 22.041(a) establishes that the word abandon is defined as “to leave a child in any place without providing reasonable and necessary care for the child, under circumstances under which no reasonable, similarly situated adult would leave a child of that age and ability.”
Texas Penal Code § 22.041(b) establishes that a person commits abandoning or endangering a child if, having custody, care, or control of a child younger than 15 years, they intentionally abandon the child in any place under circumstances that expose the child to an unreasonable risk of harm. This crime is a state jail felony when an alleged offender abandons a child with intent to return for the child, but is a third-degree felony when an alleged offender abandons a child without intent to return and is a second-degree felony when the alleged offender abandons the child under circumstances that a reasonable person would believe would place the child in imminent danger of death, bodily injury, or physical or mental impairment.
An alleged offender could also be charged with injury to a child, elderly individual, or disabled individual under Texas Penal Code § 22.04(a). Alleged injury to child cases are often classified based on whether an alleged offender acted intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence, by act or intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly by omission.
Culpable mental states are classified under Texas Penal Code § 6.03 according to the following relative degrees, from highest to lowest:
- An individual acts intentionally, or with intent, with respect to the nature of their conduct or to a result of their conduct when it is their conscious objective or desire to engage in the conduct or cause the result.
- An individual acts knowingly, or with knowledge, with respect to the nature of their conduct or to circumstances surrounding their conduct when they are aware of the nature of their conduct or that the circumstances exist. A person acts knowingly, or with knowledge, with respect to a result of their conduct when they are aware that their conduct is reasonably certain to cause the result.
- An individual acts recklessly, or is reckless, with respect to circumstances surrounding their conduct or the result of their conduct when they are aware of but consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist or the result will occur. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that its disregard constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances as viewed from the actor’s standpoint.
- An individual acts with criminal negligence, or is criminally negligent, with respect to circumstances surrounding their conduct or the result of their conduct when they ought to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist or the result will occur. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances as viewed from the actor’s standpoint.
When an alleged offender recklessly causes bodily injury to a child, or causes serious bodily injury, serious mental deficiency, impairment, or injury, or causes bodily injury to a child as the result of criminal negligence, the crime is a state jail felony. When an alleged offender intentionally or knowingly causes bodily injury to a child, it is a third-degree felony.
When an alleged offender recklessly causes serious bodily injury or serious mental deficiency, impairment, or injury to a child, and the alleged offender is an employee of the center or facility whose employment involved providing direct care for the alleged victim, injury to a child is a second-degree felony.
The difference between penalties for leaving a child in a vehicle offense and other crimes associated with this offense are clear. Leaving a child in a vehicle is a misdemeanor offense that carries no imprisonment risk, but other charges can carry much steeper penalties.
Convictions are generally punishable as follows:
- Class C misdemeanor — Fine of up to $500
- State Jail Felony — Up to two years in state jail and/or a fine of up to $10,000
- Third-Degree Felony — Up to 10 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000
- Second-Degree Felony — Up to 20 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000
The period of time a child was left alone will usually be the basis for possible abandoning or endangering a child’s offenses, and injury to a child charges only result from cases resulting in actual injuries.
Many parents can be charged with the crime of leaving a child in a vehicle when they stepped away from automobiles for only brief periods of time. For example, a parent may have run into a store to simply grab a single item and become delayed by a long line or something else that caused a child to be alone in a vehicle for an extended period of time.
While the Texas state law was designed to encourage parents to not leave children unattended in motor vehicles, overzealous prosecution of these offenses can often lead to many parents being charged with crimes when there was no criminal intent. An experienced attorney can often be able to explain to prosecutors how a parent or guardian was not going to allow a child to suffer any kind of harm while being left in an automobile.
Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS): Leaving Children in Vehicles Can Be Deadly — This is a 28, 2017 press release from DPS about summer temperatures increasing the risk of vehicular heatstroke. As the release notes, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said temperatures inside a car can rise more than 20 degrees in only 10 minutes. You can also find links to information about preventing child heatstroke in cars and pet safety.
Child Supervision | Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) — DFPS states on this frequently asked questions (FAQs) section of its website that you should not leave a child alone in a motor vehicle for any length of time. The website states that leaving a child unattended in a car is a form of neglectful supervision investigated by Child Protective Services. You can also find FAQs related to neglectful supervision and how old children need to be stay home alone.
Were you or your loved one arrested for allegedly leaving a child in a vehicle in Dallas or a surrounding area of Texas? You will want to take the criminal charges seriously.
The Law Offices of Richard C. McConathy can work to possibly get your criminal charges reduced or dismissed. Call (972) 233-5700 or contact us online to receive a free consultation.