Leaving a child or pet in a car? Why it’s a bad idea, even for a minute
Now that the weather is really starting to warm up, Garden State residents are once again being reminded to leave their pets at home — and to never leave children unattended in a vehicle.
While New Jersey law doesn’t specifically prohibit leaving a baby or a youngster alone in a car or truck, former Morris County Prosecutor Bob Bianchi points out doing so will almost always be considered endangering the welfare of a child.
“You’re leaving the child alone with the potential of being abducted or injured and unable to fend for itself, and secondarily you have the heat-related issues as well," Bianchi said.
He said endangering the welfare of a child means “if the parent or guardian does anything that is against the health, safety or welfare of the child then they can be charged with a crime."
When a child is left in a vehicle, he said, investigators will examine the parent’s background as well as the circumstances of the situation to try and figure out “was this just an inadvertent short term mistake, a parent that just forgot?
"Wwe literally had this — they forgot the kid was in the car, they’re harried, there’s something going on in their personal life ... or is it intentional? Bianchi said.
He added “you look at the whole history of the person. Is there any other previous contacts with the criminal justice system or child protective services?
He said many of these types of cases result in the offending parent being placed in pre-trial intervention, where the parent pays fines and is on probation for a period of time, typically three to five years. But in some situations a prosecutor may seek up to 364 days in the County jail.
“Prosecutors have huge discretion in the State of New Jersey to either charge or not charge a person or what the punishment may be,” Bianchi said.
He noted typically “you don’t hit a fly with a sledgehammer, but they may also look at it like, 'Wow, I don’t want to be in a situation in which this parent is not fit, we didn’t do anything about it, and God forbid we find out down the road that the child is more serious injured or dead," Bianchi said.
What about leaving a pet in a vehicle?
There is no law in New Jersey that specifies a dog or cat may not be left unattended in a vehicle, but if it’s very hot or cold, a charge of cruelty to animals can be filed.
“It depends on the conditions. It depends on the animal. It depends on the circumstance where the animal is left inside the car,” said Ross Licitra, the executive director of the Monmouth County SPCA and the chief humane law enforcement officer for the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office.
He said when it’s very hot and a pet is left in a vehicle an officer may rescue the animal by breaking into the car, and the owner can face a cruelty to animals charge, resulting in a fine between $250 and $1000.
However, if the animal in question dies as a result of being left in a vehicle, Licitra said, “it can result in a criminal charge where they could be indicted by a grand jury and charged with an actual crime.”
And if the individual is found guilty, he or should could face possible jail time and have a criminal record.
“When it’s hot leaving an animal unattended, even for five minutes can be detrimental to their health and even life threatening,” he said.
“Leave animals at home in comfortable conditions. Don’t leave them in a vehicle if there’s any question about it," he said.
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You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com