UPDATED April 30, 2018

Article by Daniel A. Levy, Esq.

During the warmer months, there was some public debate about the dangers of leaving children alone in a car seat “just for a second”. As we explain below, in New Jersey a parent could be criminally prosecuted for abuse and neglect for leaving a child unattended in a car seat. Further, in some cases the parent could be deemed to have committed child abuse and face severe penalties in the family court.

Related: Family Law, Criminal Law


Negligence and Child Neglect

By way of background, it is important to understand some key issues with New Jersey laws dealing with child neglect and endangerment. Neglect is not the same as negligence. Negligence is the failure to do what a reasonably prudent person in a similar situation would do. Parents, even great parents, commit negligence all the time (just think of all of the times when you could have had to go to the ER, but got lucky and no one was hurt). To constitute neglect, a parent’s action must meet the standard of gross negligence or recklessness. When the failure to perform a cautionary act is merely negligent, it does not trigger the statute. N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21(c)(4).

The statute only prohibits a parent or guardian from doing something that is below the minimum degree of care and recklessly creates a risk of serious injury to a child. Therefore, for a parent to face penalties the court would have to find that the parent was more than just negligent, and that the parent’s actions could have serious harmed the child.

Car seat

Leaving a Child in a Car Seat May Violate the Law

With the above legal background in mind, parents should understand that leaving a child in a car seat could very well violate the law. This was recently addressed by the court in Dep’t of Children and Families v. E.D., a reported decision from January. In that case, the defendant parked her car and locked in her 19-month-old who was sleeping in a car seat. The mother cracked the window (this was in May) and went into a nearby store for approximately 10 minutes to shop. The store was 150 feet from the car. A pedestrian noticed the child in the car and called the police. Thankfully, the child was fine, but the mother was charged with child endangerment under N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21. The judge held that the charges were proper since leaving the child in the locked car was gross negligence and therefore child neglect. And even though the child was unharmed, there was the potential for serious harm. Therefore, the neglect exposed the child to the potential for harm. The court also differentiated this case from other cases where a parent may have been negligent (like cases where a parent accidentally left the child home alone, reasonably believing that another adult was still in the house).

New Jersey Family and Criminal Lawyer – Free Consultation

If you are facing charges for child neglect or abuse in the in criminal or family court, please call us right away for a 100% free consultation, on the phone or in our office. We will review all court documents with you and advise you on what we can do to help you. Remember, is the prosecutor, DYFS or anyone else files a Complaint or a Motion in Family Court or criminal charges, they are looking for the best possible result from their point of view. Do not expect to appear in court on your own, explain your side of the story, and have the judge agree with everything you say. This is very rare. It is important to be represented by a skilled attorney.