Child Left in Car Dies. Should Parent be Prosecuted?

This chart, developed by Kidsandcars.org, shows the states where laws specific to leaving children in hot cars exist, are pending, and do not exist. To date, 19 states have such a law and a recent event involving the child of a Mississippi police officer well-highlights the need for the remaining states to act.





For many American’s, the question of whether negligent parents should face criminal charges is simple: Yes, they should be prosecuted. What about parents who let their infant and toddler children die of heat stroke while left unattended in a car? This question is not as clear.

Just last week, a police officer in Mississippi, Cassie Barker and her partner, Sgt. Clark Ladner were fired from their job. The reason?

They left her 3-year old daughter in the car for four hours. When they returned, the child was unresponsive and declared dead on arrival at the hospital. This situation raises many serious issues.

Isn’t it Illegal to Leave a Child Unattended for ANY duration in a Parked Car?

The fact is, according to the advocacy site KidsandCars.org, to date only 19 states have laws specifically charging parents with a crime when their child dies in a hot car because of prolonged exposure. The states with laws forbidding parents from leaving children unattended are:

  1. California
  2. Connecticut
  3. Florida
  4. Hawaii
  5. Illinois
  6. Louisiana
  7. Maryland
  8. Michigan
  9. Nebraska
  10. Nevada
  11. New Mexico
  12. Oklahoma
  13. Pennsylvania
  14. Tennessee
  15. Texas
  16. Utah
  17. Washington

Two states do not protect children left unattended, but rather simply have statutes specifically for prosecuting deaths resulting therefrom. These are:

  • Missouri
  • Kentucky

To be sure, on average only 37 children die each year because of exposure in hot vehicles according to Kidsandcars.org. But really, isn’t that 37 much too many?

I think that most parents would agree that that figure is far too high.

There is much too much known today about heat buildup in autos. Such things are so shocking that it shocks the senses to imagine that ANY parent would be ignorant of these facts. But in the case of a law enforcement officer, it is especially eggregious. I mean, what were the two officers who killed one’s child doing for FOUR HOURS?

Were they getting it on in a hotel?

Were they working?

Were they eating donuts?

Who cares, right? A child died a slow, painful death by overheating because of their stupidity.



The Reason Matters Not When Reason Flies Away

The simple fact is that there is no excuse for leaving a child in a hot car. It is callous to the nth degree. Anyone who does so is ciminal.

Now, to be clear, I am virtually never an advocate for tougher laws. Anyone who follows my site and blog know this. I lean in the direction of elminating many useless, obsolete, and socially-harmful laws. However, this is a case wherein I must go the other way. Why?

Because children are the most innocent and vunerable in our society. We have laws protecting children from abuse in every state and at a Federal level as well. Still, parents across the nation, including police, often fail to care for their children as well as they should.

Many parents argue that their children are theirs. True.

As my father liked to say (and you may have heard this growing up as well)…

I brought you into this world and I can take you out.

I think I was about twelve when I realized this was simply not the case. Sure, he could have killed me if he wanted, but not without settling up with the state. So there would have been consequences and rightfully so.

Yet, when the state steps in to help children, most parents go instantly on the defensive–this demonstrates less concern for their children and more concern for themselves.

Of course, the situations in Child Protective Services is often less than ideal. In recent decades many have been found to provide worse conditions than the children have with many parents. Still, the idea is sound: The state must step in to protect children when necessary. Why?

Because our children are also citizens of the United States. As citizens, they too have a right to “Life” as stated in the Preamble to the Constitution. So really, there should be a Federal law protecting the lives of children–such as when left in hot cars. But there is not.

Mississippi Does not Have a Hot Car Child Law, but that Does Not Preclude Prosecution of the Police Who Killed the Child

Although Mississippi only currently has a proposed law, the current laws are sufficient for prosecutors to bring charges if the will to do so is present. This case will be interesting to watch because in general, local and state prosecutors seldom charge police with a crime, even murder or manslaughter.

This chart, developed by Kidsandcars.org, shows the states where laws specific to leaving children in hot cars exist, are pending, and do not exist. To date, 19 states have such a law and a recent event involving the child of a Mississippi police officer well-highlights the need for the remaining states to act.
This chart, developed by Kidsandcars.org, shows the states where laws specific to leaving children in hot cars exist, are pending, and do not exist. To date, 19 states have such a law and a recent event involving the child of a Mississippi police officer well-highlights the need for the remaining states to act. Click on the map to visit the kidsandcars.org state laws page to learn more.

This is a clear case of manslaughter–or daughter slaughter. There is no avoiding the fact that any reasonable person would see that four hours is far too long for anyone, much less a child, to sit in a hot car. And with all that police see in the line of duty, this case is far more eggregious.

Of course, I am sure the mother, Officer Cassie Barker is distraught and my heart does go out to her. She did a stupid thing and is already paying a heavy price. Not only did she lose her child, but she and her partner lost their jobs.

Facing criminal charges would do nothing worse to Ms. Barker and her partner than they already will face in the days to come. But one of the reasons for charging a crime and sentencing is deterrment.

Prosecutors often charge people they otherwise would not in order to send a clear message to others, especially in high-profile, public, and newsworthy cases. This raises awareness of the issue and in the long-term may deter others. So for this reason alone, the two should face prosecution.

Clearly, the message…

Don’t leave your kids in a hot car!

…is failing to reach everyone. Remember, on average 37 kids each year die as a result of this horrible practice. If you think that is 37 too many, share this post with your friends. Together, maybe we can turn the tide in the remaining 31 states.



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