Court: Woman who left child in car deserves new hearing
Aug. 20, 2015
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A woman who was found to have neglected her 19-month-old daughter by leaving the child in a car while she went shopping will get another chance to argue her case, the state Supreme Court wrote in an opinion released Thursday.
The ruling reversed an appeals court decision from last year that said the woman's actions constituted gross neglect and that another hearing wasn't warranted.
According to court documents, the woman, identified by the initials E.D.O., left her sleeping daughter in a locked car with the engine running and the windows slightly opened while she shopped in a South Plainfield store for about five or 10 minutes in May 2009.
The temperature at the time was about 55 degrees, according to court documents. A security guard noticed the child in the car and called police.
The Division of Child Protection and Permanency filed a complaint against the woman and her husband seeking care and supervision of their four children.
The woman appealed, but her request for a hearing in front of an administrative law judge was denied and the appeals court upheld that determination.
The 7-0 ruling Thursday by the state's highest court held that the entire circumstances of the incident should be taken into account before a determination of neglect or abuse is entered.
"Leaving a child unattended in a car or a house is negligent conduct," Judge Mary Catherine Cuff wrote. "However, this Court has emphasized that whether a parent's conduct is negligent or grossly negligent requires an evaluation of the totality of the circumstances. Such an evaluation can only occur through a hearing."
The court also chided the Division of Child Protection and Permanency for the length of time it has taken to resolve the case, noting that the child will be nearly 8 years old when the case is heard by a judge.
In an email, a spokesman for the Division of Children and Families, which oversees DCPP, wrote that the agency "looks forward to submitting additional information to support its finding in this case that leaving a 19-month-old alone in the car to shop is grossly negligent."
Awareness about the dangers of leaving young children alone in cars has grown over the last several years. More than 600 children in the United States have died since 1998 after being left in cars, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
In a case that drew extensive publicity, a single mother in Arizona was sentenced in May to 18 years of supervised probation for leaving her two young sons in a car that reached temperatures in excess of 100 degrees while she went to a job interview. The woman, Shanesha Taylor, earned sympathy and monetary donations from around the country after she said she was unable to find child care.