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What Happens When You Leave Your Child in a Hot Car?


The arrival of spring brings sunny weather and warmer temperatures in California and the rest of the country. Now that the sun is out for a longer period of time, parents must be careful about leaving their children in the car.

It is not uncommon for a parent to leave their child in the vehicle to quickly grab something from the store. However, someone passing by could notice that your child is unattended and contact law enforcement, resulting in legal trouble.

According to California law, no parent, legal guardian, or any other individual responsible for a child under six years old can leave the child unattended in a motor vehicle. Additionally, even if a child under 12 years old is watching over another child who is under six years in the car, it is still against the law. Essentially, a child who is not at least 12 years of age cannot be left alone in a car.

Violation of state law must have one of the following elements present:

  • The child’s health and safety at risk due to the present conditions - For example, when a child is left alone in a car--without ventilation--when it is extremely hot outside.
  • When the car keys are in the ignition and/or the engine is running - For example, a parent runs back into the house to recover a forgotten item and leaves a child alone in a vehicle.

If you leave a child in a car unattended, it is considered an infraction that is punishable by a maximum $100 plus tax. This means you will not be subject to jail time for this infraction.

However, if a child suffers an injury because of being left alone in a car, the parent or adult responsible for taking care of the child could be charged with child endangerment. This crime is defined as willfully causing or allowing any child to sustain or inflict physical or mental injury on a child.

Child endangerment is considered a wobbler, meaning it can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. Nevertheless, a conviction results in prison time, fines, and a permanent criminal record that can ruin your professional reputation and personal life.

Furthermore, a conviction may lead to hearing from your local child social services agency, which will investigate your case and determine the welfare and safety of your child. If the agency finds evidence that you are a threat to the child’s safety, your child will be removed from your custody.

Do not let a lapse in mental judgment cause irreparable damage to your life. If you have been accused of purposefully leaving your child in a hot car in Santa Barbara, contact Apple & Morse and schedule a free criminal consultation today.

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