One of the goals of society has always been to keep children out of harm’s way.
Now that summer is upon us, one way of doing this is to remind parents and other caregivers about the importance of not leaving a child or children in an unattended vehicle.
The reason for this is quite simple — cars can heat up in a hurry. The interior temperature of a vehicle can increase 20 degrees in just 10 minutes and a car’s interior can reach 110 degrees when the temperatures are only in the 60s.
An average of 38 children have died in “hot” cars each year since 1998 with 52 deaths being reported in 2018 — the highest total ever. Approximately 70 percent of these deaths are attributable to children being left in cars accidentally or intentionally.
The law has long recognized the importance of child safety and all states have various child protection laws.
In Michigan, we have a specific statute, which went into effect Jan. 12, 2009 making it a criminal offense to leave a child less than 6 years old in an unattended vehicle. The statute provides that this is illegal if the child is left for a period of time that poses an unreasonable risk of harm or injury to the child or under circumstances that pose such risk.
If there is no harm or injury it is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 93 days in jail and/or up to a $500 fine.
If harm or injury does occur the penalties increase accordingly. When there is a death, it is a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and/or up to a $10,000 fine.
Michigan is one of 19 states that have such a law and the list is growing.
On May 30, 2019 the Michigan Court of Appeals released its opinion in People v Haveman clarifying the criminal intent necessary to sustain a conviction under the statute.
The court held that this is a “general intent” crime, which means it is necessary to prove that a defendant knowingly intended to commit the prohibited act. A defendant can claim it was an accident.
Children are precious and we all must be vigilant to see that they are protected.