Free-Range Kids

New Jersey Court Gives Mom Who Let Kid Wait in Car a Reprieve from Endangerment Charge

Imperfect parents are not necessarily abusive parents.

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Car
Dreamstime

What a huge victory for common sense, decent parents, and a country otherwise gripped by worst-first thinking: the New Jersey Supreme Court just ruled that a mom found guilty of child endangerment for letting her sleeping daughter wait in the car for 5-10 minutes in a suburban mall parking lot on a cool day deserved another hearing.

You'll recall the case from when I wrote about it in January of 2014, and then again about a year ago, when the mom lost her appeal:

The toddler slept through the whole "ordeal," but the mom was found guilty of neglect, even upon appeal, when the three appellate judges ruled that they didn't have to list the "parade of horribles" that COULD have happened to the child. Which is, of course, fantasy as policy again: Just because the judges could imagine a kidnapping, or carjacking, or a big bad wolf, doesn't mean that these are at all likely.

I'm happy to say that the New Jersey Supreme agrees. As newjersey.com reports:

In a unanimous 7-0 decision, New Jersey's highest court reversed an appeals court ruling last year that found the woman guilty of child endangerment because even though her daughter wasn't harmed, simply leaving a child alone in a vehicle — even briefly — was enough to constitute abuse or neglect.

The Supreme Court ordered that the woman — identified only by her initials, E.D.-O. — deserves a hearing in which all of the case's circumstances are considered.

"Any allegation of child neglect in which the conduct of the parent or caretaker does not cause actual harm is fact-sensitive and must be resolved on a case-by-case basis," Judge Mary Catherine Cuff wrote for the court.

You mean, instead of treating all parents who opt for a bit of convenience as craven child abusers, we can actually consider reality instead of just outrage? Imagine that!

On second thought—don't. Imagination is what got us into the trouble in the first place. It is very easy to imagine a child dying in a car, because that's what we've been told by endless public service announcements and articles about this supposed danger to kids.

And while it's true that some kids do die in cars, it's also true that more kids die in parking lots. And even more kids die in cars that are moving. If we can keep the small risk of a fatal car crash in perspective and let parents go about their lives, we can do the same for parents who let their kids wait in the car.

In this case, Child Protective Services visited the mom's home and found nothing at all to indicate danger:

But the state Division of Child Protection and Permanency filed a complaint against the woman and her husband, seeking care and supervision of all four of their children.

E.D.-O. appealed and requested an administrative hearing, but she was denied on multiple occasions.

three-judge appellate panel agreed that the woman's actions constituted gross neglect and thus did not require an administrative hearing.

"A parent invites substantial peril when leaving a child of such tender years alone in a motor vehicle that is out of the parent's sight, no matter how briefly," Judge Clarkson Fisher Jr. wrote for the appeals court panel last January.

Fisher cited the risk of "car theft or kidnapping" and the possibility that "on a hot day, the temperature inside a motor vehicle can quickly spike to dangerously high levels, just as it may rapidly and precipitously dip on a cold night."

And let's not forget the giant raptors who could peck through the window and take the child back to their nest.

Huge thanks are in order to the mom's lawyer, Sean Marotta, for making this case:

"We are pleased the court recognized that not all parenting mistakes are child abuse and that the Division must consider the totality of the circumstances on a case-by-case basis," said [Sean] Marotta, an attorney with Hogan Lovells, who was co-counsel in the case with the Epstein Arlen law firm in Somerset. "We look forward to proving at an administrative hearing that E.D.-O.'s one-time lapse in judgment does not warrant labeling her a child-abuser for life."

 While I don't believe the mom's decision was a mistake or a lapse in judgement—it was a rational decision by a loving mom, and one that most of our own loving moms made—I do agree with the larger point: all one-off mistakes should not be the basis for taking kids away. Kids do not need perfection, which is a good thing, since there is no such thing as a perfect parent.

The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that imperfect parents are not automatically child abusers. All hail New Jersey! (Words this New Yorker never expected to write.)

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  1. Poorly spelled Facebook discussions about what a monster she is in 5…4…3…

  2. This is what happens when you leave kids alone in a car.

    1. It’s true. Every last bit of it is true.

  3. “A parent invites substantial peril when leaving a child of such tender years alone in a motor vehicle that is out of the parent’s sight, no matter how briefly,” Judge Clarkson Fisher Jr. wrote for the appeals court panel last January.

    Fisher cited the risk of “car theft or kidnapping” and the possibility that “on a hot day, the temperature inside a motor vehicle can quickly spike to dangerously high levels, just as it may rapidly and precipitously dip on a cold night.”

    Judge Feelz needs the woodchipper treatment.

    1. Oh man not this again…….

      1. It’s been well established that all comments posted here are naught but juvenile bluster.

      2. Sometimes a final solution becomes necessary. I would like to see “Woodchipper Day” become as big a national holiday as Independence Day, and for the same reason.

        http://www.npr.org/sections/kr…..in-seconds

  4. Words this New Yorker never expected to write.

    And should never write again. Let’s not forget this nonsense made it all the way to the state’s supreme court. Also, New Jersey smells.

    1. Like?

      1. It smells exactly like an elliptical sentence.

      2. Like butt, There’s no fights, it’s a perfect match
        Hillbillies in the crowd tryin’ to cabbage patch
        And to think, I’ve always been afraid to die
        But I ain’t never goin back to wonder why.

    2. And New Jersey ignores federal law and the second amendment. This court decision is a one-off, and does nothing to change the fact that New Jersey is a Superfund site, politically speaking.

  5. A parent invites substantial peril when driving 55 mph head on towards another car also moving at 55 mph whose driver is probably replying to a sext.

    FIFY.

    1. Seriously. Leaving the kid in a reasonably safe parking lot on a not-too-hot day for 10 minutes is probably the safest time the kid spends in the car.

      What if she had taken the kid into the store and an armed robbery happened at that moment? Didn’t think of that, did you, judge?

      1. More kids get hurt in the home than anywhere else, therefore any child found in a home should be rescued by CPS.

      2. I think it can be statistically shown that a child in a car is much more likely to die when a parent is also in the car.

    2. ^^^THIS. If you want to start policing parental behavior, why not start with the most dangerous behaviors? Letting kids play video games for hours promotes death by obesity. Driving on highways promotes fatal car accidents. Having a pet dog promotes maulings. Calling the police promotes toddler flashbangings.

  6. Well, its a win, I guess. Although the “process as punishment” continues on.

    A “huge victory” would be the case getting dismissed, and the victim getting all of her legal bills paid. An apology would be nice, too.

    1. I’d want some people to lose their jobs and I’d want to see the law that let’s this happen in the first place get struck down. Then I’d call it a huge victory. With your “huge victory” this crap will still happen again and again.

  7. The Supreme Court ordered that the woman ? identified only by her initials, E.D.-O. ? deserves a hearing in which all of the case’s circumstances are considered.

    Any allegation of child neglect in which the conduct of the parent or caretaker does not cause actual harm is fact-sensitive and must be resolved on a case-by-case basis,” Judge Mary Catherine Cuff wrote for the court.

    A three-judge appellate panel agreed that the woman’s actions constituted gross neglect and thus did not require an administrative hearing.

    Wait, so in NJ they can take your kids without so much as a hearing? You don’t even get to present your side of the case? They don’t have to convict you of anything, they can just straight up kidnap your children after a site visit and some paperwork?

    From now on when I drive up North, forget I-95, I’m taking the long way round.

    1. She didn’t get a hearing because it was so obvious she was guilty. Duh!

  8. What a huge victory for common sense, decent parents, and a country otherwise gripped by worst-first thinking: the New Jersey Supreme Court just ruled that a mom found guilty of child endangerment for letting her sleeping daughter wait in the car for 5-10 minutes in a suburban mall parking lot on a cool day deserved another hearing.

    Are we really describing the State Supreme Court allowing her to ask for forgiveness a second time after not receiving it the first time, a “huge victory”?

    Wouldn’t (or won’t) the huge victory be if she was immediately exonerated of all charges, and the agents of the state responsible for dragging her through this be publicly flogged, and all their current and ancestral assets transferred to the woman in recompense for her suffering?

    1. Well, the State Supreme Court also said that she gets to present evidence in her favor when she asks forgiveness this time. So there’s that…

      1. I would call this a “positive development”. I’ll call it a “huge victory” when her enemies are made to bow and scrape before her.

        1. I’ll call it a “huge victory” when her enemies are the guests of honor at an auto da fe.

  9. All hail New Jersey!

    Lenore is currently shopping for a velour tracksuit.

    1. The addidas track suit means one of two things. You’re from New Jersey or a former Soviet republic.

  10. So, did they take her kids ? Does she get them back?

    It’s unclear from any of the information provided if she ever lost custody.

  11. New Jersey: Where Moosehead is not a beer, it’s a misdemeanor.

    1. How old is the kid? Old enough to open a window?

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