“N.J. Supreme Court to Decide if Leaving Kid in Car for a Few Minutes Equals Child Abuse”

On a cool and overcast day, a mother in New Jersey left her sleeping child in a running car for a few minutes to enter a store, with no injurious consequences — except that she herself was tossed onto a child abuse registry. She is now contesting the denial of a hearing, and David Pimentel summarizes what is at stake [Lenore Skenazy]:

If the N.J. Supreme Court upholds the lower court, child-left-in-car cases in New Jersey will be very straightforward. Even if the investigation shows that no criminal child endangerment occurred (so charges are dropped), absent extenuating circumstances, it will be virtually automatic that the parent will be branded as a “child abuser” for the rest of his or her life. Not only is the parent presumed guilty, the parent is not even entitled to a hearing to prove his or her innocence.


  • I don’t know if NJ has a procedure for removing (“impeaching”) judges, but the lower-court judge who rubber-stamped this outrageous denial of due process (consideration of the actual facts in the case)would be a perfect candidate.

  • There was an incident on Sunday May 25 in Plant City Florida where a grandmother left the car running while she was pumping gas. Her 2 small grandchildren were in the car. This story was flogged continuously on all local Tampa news stations. I’m not sure if it has gone national yet.

    An assailant came up, fought with the grandmother, and then stole the car with the children inside. Luckily, the assailant stopped 1/2 mile away and abandoned the car and the children. The children were unharmed; the grandmother’s purse and computer were taken.

    Sounds like a standard issue carjacking. But what does anyone want to bet that this family will be investigated by DCF?

  • I agree that the woman should have a hearing and not be denied her right face her accusers and the ridiculous result of having her name put on a “child abuse” registry.

    That being said, there are troubling aspects on both sides of this case. First, the car engine was running. It is a misdemeanor in NJ to leave an unattended car running. Why wasn’t she fined for that? Did the police see a bigger fish to fry in the child abuse charge?

    Secondly, part of the “defense” is that the child was “in the car for less than ten minutes.” The reason that the child was there for that period of time was that the police came with lights flashing and the woman saw them from the store. In other words, the event ended not because of the mother ending her shopping at the party store, but because the police showed up. It seems clear that the length of time the child would have been in the car would have been longer if not for the police arrival.

    Lastly, attorney David Pimentel writes in the cited article:

    The car was locked, with the windows cracked, and with the engine running, presumably to keep the car’s climate-control system engaged.

    Presumably? The woman hasn’t said why the car was left running? If you are going to make a statement and defend the woman’s action, defend them and don’t make the reader guess at the reasons the woman acted in a certain manner especially when those acts are being used to say she wasn’t neglecting the child.

    I would have been happier with this case if the woman was cited for leaving the car running and a friendly discussion (not lecture – discussion) with the police on the dangers of leaving a car running, and the dangers of leaving a kid in a car that is running.

    Your mileage may vary.