Should a Parent Be Charged with Murder for Leaving a Child in a Car?

One of the most horrific stories we have all seen lately is children being left in a hot car with the windows up. After feeling sympathy for the child, most people turn their attention to the parent and try to figure out how the parent let such a horrible thing happen to their child. Issues arise as to whether it was intentional or simply negligent. Either way, the parent may face criminal charges. However, those charges may vary from state to state based on the law of each jurisdiction.

The key issue in whether a parent is charged with murder is the level of intent needed for a murder charge in the state where the death took place. Every state and the District of Columbia defines murder, manslaughter and the like differently – they have different names for the offenses and each state has a unique level of intent required for a conviction. Some states require that the parent have an intent to kill; others go so low as to only requiring negligence (e.g., negligent homicide), but even then usually they may require more than simply negligence. So, the inconsistencies from state to state are partly a result of our federal system.

Whether murder or other charges are brought also depends the nature of the crime. Intent in a traditional murder case may be straightforward - police and prosecutors look for a motive that the defendant might have had. In most cases, that is clear or reasonably inferred. However, in a case against a parent for leaving a child in a car, it is very difficult to determine the parent's intent. Obviously, the child cannot be a witness and no one else is usually involved. That is why police look into the parent's computer research and statements and activity before and after the death. They need to piece together the parent's frame of mind to see if he or she was truly evil or simply neglectful. Proving intent in this way is often difficult, but when a parent researches how log someone can survive in a hot vehicle, that provides police with evidence that the parent had such a horrible event in their mind.

Overall, each case is different because each one involves a unique set of facts. It is challenging for the legal justice system to consider all those facts and come up with a just result.

Categories: Wrongful Death