Leaving a Child Unattended in a Vehicle Can Be a Misdemeanor or Felony
A child might be left alone and unattended in a vehicle intentionally or accidentally. It can be hard to comprehend how parents make such mistakes, but young children are sometimes forgotten.
It is illegal to leave a child unattended by accident or intentionally in a vehicle.
Any parent or grandparent of a young child has encountered a situation where the child is sleeping when you arrive at a store or other location. When the stop is going to be brief, there might be some reluctance to wake the child, which is understandable. Intentionally leaving a child unattended in a vehicle is a crime if there is an unreasonable risk of harm or injury. “Unattended” means alone or without the supervision of an individual 13 years of age or older.
Leaving a child accidentally may constitute a different crime, such as child abuse or manslaughter, if there is an injury or death. The criminal statute is entitled, “Leaving child unattended in vehicle; prohibition; violation; definitions.”
For purposes of this law, a child is a person who is less than six (6) years of age.
What is an unreasonable risk of harm or injury?
Michigan law does not clearly define an unreasonable risk relative to Leaving a Child Unattended in a Vehicle charges. Because “unreasonable” is not defined in the statute, the court will generally look to the common dictionary definition when the law does not define a term. In People v. Lawhorn, for example, the court found that “reasonable” means:
Fair, proper, just, moderate, and suitable under the circumstances. Fit and appropriate to the end in view. Having the faculty of reason; rational; governed by reason; under the influence of reason; agreeable to reason. Thinking, speaking, or acting according to the dictates of reason. Not immoderate or excessive, being synonymous with rational, honest, equitable, fair, suitable, moderate, tolerable.
“Unreasonable” would likely be anything other than “reasonable.” In other words, a court would consider intentionally leaving an unattended child in a vehicle “unreasonable” if that decision was improper, unjust, excessive, unsuitable, or irrational.
Penalties for Leaving an Unattended Child in a Vehicle
- No Injury: If the child does not suffer any injury, the offense is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 93 days in jail, 2 years of probation, and fines.
- Physical Harm: If the child suffers physical harm, but not serious physical harm, the offense is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in jail, up to 2 years of probation, and fines.
- Serious Physical Harm: If the child suffers serious physical harm, the offense is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison, up to 5 years on probation, and hefty fines and costs.
- Death of a Child: If Leaving a Child Unattended in a Vehicle results in the child’s death, the offense is a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison, up to 5 years on probation, and severe fines and costs.
Does the government need to prove that the child’s caretaker, guardian, or parent intended to leave the child in the car to establish guilt?
Intent is required under the Leaving a Child Unattended in a Vehicle statute. If the person responsible for a child in a vehicle forgets or doesn’t remember that a child is in the vehicle, they lack the requisite intent for a conviction. If the person does know the child is in the car and makes a conscious decision to leave the child, even for a brief moment, they might be guilty of leaving the child unattended if the situation creates an unreasonable risk of harm. Actual harm is not required. The statute criminalizes leaving a child unattended even if there is only an unreasonable risk of harm.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you leave your kid in the car if it’s running?
In Michigan, it is illegal to leave a kid under the age of six in a parked or running car if unattended. The penalties range from a misdemeanor to a felony, with sentences ranging from 93 days to 15 years in prison and fines ranging from $500 to $10,000.
What to do if I see a child is left in a car?
When considering whether to contact the authorities, consider the age of the child or children left unattended in a vehicle. If they are old enough to speak with you, ask them how long they’ve been in the car and where their parent or guardian went. If the child appears to be under six (6), law enforcement should be called as a precaution.
Can I leave a baby in my car for 5 minutes?
It depends on the circumstances. Michigan law does not specify a specific limitation on the number of minutes a child can be left unattended in a car. The law states that a child cannot be left alone for a period of time that poses an unreasonable risk of harm or injury to the child or under circumstances that pose an unreasonable risk of harm or injury to the child. If the temperature is 90 degrees, the police might consider one minute too much time. If the temperature is 72 degrees, the location is safe, the car is close, and you have a clear view of the car, then 5 minutes might not be unreasonable.
At what age can you leave kids in the car in Michigan?
Six (6) years old. The law states that no child younger than six can be left in a vehicle unattended.
What age is OK to leave a child in the car?
In Michigan, you can leave a child under six (6) years old unattended in a vehicle without violating MCL 750.135a. However, if the circumstances are dangerous or harmful, you could risk child abuse or neglect charges.
Can you leave your baby in the car for 2 minutes?
MCL 750.135a does not specify precisely how long a child can be left unattended. The time, however long, cannot pose an unreasonable risk of harm or injury to the child.
Is it illegal to leave your kid in the car in Michigan?
It is illegal if the child is younger than six and there is an unreasonable risk of harm or injury to the child.
How old can a child be left alone in Michigan?
A child who is six (6) or older can be left unattended in a vehicle. If the child is injured or the situation is hazardous, law enforcement might consider child abuse or neglect charges.
Can an older child watch my baby in the car while I’m in a store?
The person attending the child must be at least 13 years old and not be incapacitated. (MCL 750.135a).
Defense Attorney for Leaving a Child Unattended in a Vehicle
Prosecutors and judges tend to believe any person responsible for a child left unattended in a vehicle is a terrible person and a danger to the community. While an individual might have made a terrible decision that resulted in an unreasonable risk of harm to a child or worse, it is unlikely that the person is evil. The more likely scenario, in most cases, is that the person responsible for leaving a child unattended in a vehicle made a poor decision that resulted in unintended consequences. A person’s stress, lack of knowledge, inattentiveness, or impulsivity might be a mitigating reason or explanation for leaving a young child unattended, although not a legal excuse.
The child abuse defense attorneys with LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. will not judge you. Our mission is to help our client and credibly persuade the government to understand that our client is not a bad person. While a prosecutor, police officer, or judge might be resistant to listening to or showing empathy for a defendant charged with this offense, a very skilled, compelling, and reputable lawyer will be able to get them to listen.
If you call us, we will not be judgmental, and we will be empathetic and listen to you. During a free consultation, we will take the time to answer your questions and address your concerns. Our defense lawyer can always find a way to help, even clients charged with Leaving a Child Unattended in a Vehicle.
Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation or complete a Request for Assistance Form. We will contact you promptly and find a way to help you.