On average, 37 children die each year from heat stroke after being left in a parked car. Criminal defense attorney Rebecca Wade has handled these tragic cases and addresses the legal consequences that follow.

With summer fast approaching and temperatures climbing, the risk of leaving your child in the car becomes extremely dangerous. “A parked car on a hot day heats up really fast. It’s like being in an oven,” says Wade. “There are reports of children being killed and injured, being left in cars even on 65 or 70 degree days because cars heat up to well over 100 degrees even in mild temperatures.”

Wade finds that these cases often fall within one of two categories. “The first is when a person knowingly leaves a child in the car and plans to return after just a few minutes. They assume they’re just going to run into the store for a quick errand, but then something distracts or delays them.” The second type of case is when the person gets out of the car without realizing they have left the child in the vehicle. “This happens most often when there has recently been a change in the person’s routine,” explains Wade.

The following factors play a significant role in the outcome of a hot car court case:

-How long was the child left in the car?

-Where was the car parked when the child was left (at work, at home, at a shopping center)?

-Who left the child in the car? Was it a parent? If so, was it the parent that is usually responsible for caring for the child?  

Prosecutors take these cases very seriously. The most serious charge is up to 20 years if the incident results in death or serious bodily injury to the child.

“Normally child protective services are going to get involved, even if no criminal charges are brought,” says Wade. “When all this is happening, you may be emotional and feel pressured to speak with the police. In that emotional state, what you say could be misconstrued and used against you in court, which is why it’s critical to immediately contact an attorney. You can politely tell the police that you would love to cooperate with them but you can only speak with them once your attorney is present.”

These tragic cases can happen to anyone. Even if the child survives and there’s no permanent harm, hot car cases can affect a family for the rest of their lives. The most important thing to recognize is that these situations do happen, and it’s critical to be vigilant and aware to prevent them.