What Charges Can You Face for Leaving Your Child in a Car? (California Penal Code Section 273a)
Christina Moon was having a hectic day when she went to return an item to her local J.C. Penney. With her daughter exhausted and already occupied with a movie in the back of her SUV, she pulled into the parking lot.
As soon as she approached the store, the four-year-old girl began to protest. She was tired of running errands with her mom. Not to mention, she was heavily involved with her movie in the back seat. Knowing that she just had to make a quick return, Moon decided to let her daughter have her way.1
She parked close to the store and left the air conditioning running. She locked her car from the outside and took her keys with her. Unfortunately for Moon, the quick errand in J.C. Penney took about 15 minutes.2
During that time, a witness saw the young girl sitting in the car alone and quickly phoned 911. When her mother came out of the store, a police officer was already circling the parking lot. Moon ultimately plead guilty to leaving an unattended child in a vehicle.
Leaving a Child in a Car (California Vehicle Code Section 15620)
Under California Vehicle Code Section 15620, no parent, legal guardian, or other person who is responsible for a child under the age of six can leave the child unattended in a car. Leaving a child under the age of six with another child who is under the age of 12 is also considered a violation. In other words, a child cannot be left in a car unless they are under the supervision of someone who is at least 12 years old.3
A violation of Vehicle Code section 15620 occurs when you leave a child inside a car without supervision and one of the following circumstances are present:
- There are conditions that present a significant risk to the child’s health or safety, or
- The vehicle’s engine is running or the vehicle’s keys are in the ignition, or both.
One clear example of this is when a child is left unattended in a car with the engine running while the parent runs back into the house to retrieve a forgotten item. Another example is when a child is left unattended in a car when the weather is extremely hot and there is no ventilation for the child.
Consequences of Violating Vehicle Code Section 15620
A violation of Vehicle Code Section 15620 is punishable as an infraction with a fine of $100. An infraction does not result in any jail time.
Most importantly, the law allows the judge to waive your fine if you show that you are economically disadvantaged. In that case, the judge will refer you to a community education program, which teaches you about the dangers of leaving a child unattended in a car.
Child Endangerment (California Penal Code Section 273a)
Under certain circumstances, you could face charges of child endangerment if you leave a child unattended in a car. This is a far more serious crime than an infraction. California Penal Code Section 273a defines child endangerment as any person who willfully causes or permits any child to suffer or inflicts unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering on a child.
The law also punishes those individuals who are caring for a child. If you are caring for a child or have custody of that child and you willfully cause or permit injury, you could be found guilty of child endangerment.
PC 273a is as a “wobbler” offense, which means the prosecution can charge you with a felony or misdemeanor depending on the facts of your case. In situations where there was no willful act to cause a child to suffer great bodily injury, a misdemeanor charge is likely. However, it is still up to the discretion of the prosecutor when filing criminal charges.
Consequences of Child Endangerment
A felony conviction of violating Penal Code section 273a is punishable by two, four or six years in prison. A misdemeanor is punishable by up to a year in county jail.
In addition, you will be placed on probation for a minimum and be required to complete a child abuser’s treatment counseling program and pay court fines. The judge can also issue a criminal protective order preventing you from having any contact with your child.
Your Child Could Be Taken Away From You (Welfare and Institutions Code Section 300)
If you are convicted of child endangerment, your local social services agency will likely contact you and conduct a further investigation in determining the safety and welfare of the child. A social worker will make a visit to your home and interview you and other members of the household to determine if the child is at risk for harm.
The social worker could remove the child from your custody and file a petition in juvenile dependency court if there is a credible threat to the child’s safety.
Let the Criminal Defense Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich Help You Today
A conviction for endangering a child can result in expensive fines and jail time. This will keep you away from your child and your family. Fighting these allegations with an aggressive defense from an experienced team of attorneys is absolutely necessary. Our attorneys at Wallin & Klarich have over 40 years of experience successfully defending our clients in child endangerment cases in both criminal and child dependency court.
With offices located in Orange County, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, Torrance, Riverside, West Covina, Victorville, Ventura, San Diego and Sherman Oaks, one of our skilled attorneys is available to provide you legal guidance no matter where you live.
Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free phone consultation. We will get through this together.