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Can I Be Arrested for Leaving a Child in a Vehicle in Texas? | Best Criminal Defense

 It's a hot summer day and you are out running errands with your toddler. You park in a convenience store parking lot and notice that your baby is asleep in the car seat. You decide to quickly run into the store, leaving your child in the car unattended. Can you be arrested for leaving a child in a vehicle in Texas?

In Texas, it is a crime – a misdemeanor – to leave a young child in a vehicle for more than five minutes unattended. If the child is injured or dies as a result of being left in the car – tragedies we sometimes see in the brutal summer heat – you could be charged with a serious felony.

In this article, we are going to discuss the law and the potential consequences of leaving a child in a vehicle in Texas. We will also give some real examples of when this has happened and why police and prosecutors take this offense so seriously.

If you or a loved one has been accused of leaving a child in a vehicle, it is extremely important to contact an experienced defense attorney immediately. Not only could you be facing criminal charges, but Child Protective Service (CPS) could also get involved. Our team has handled dozens of cases involving crimes against children – first as highly-skilled prosecutors and now as highly-coveted defense attorneys. We can help.

What does Texas law say about leaving a child in a vehicle in Texas?

Under Texas Penal Code 22.10, a person commits an offense if he or she intentionally or knowingly leaves a child in a motor vehicle for longer than five minutes, knowing that the child is:

  • younger than seven years of age; and
  • not attended by an individual in the vehicle who is 14 years of age or older.

As you can see, briefly leaving a child in a vehicle is not always illegal. Still, it is always better to err on the side of caution. If you are leaving a child in the car, even for just a minute, make sure that the child is supervised by someone 14 years of age or older.

What is the punishment for leaving a child in a vehicle in Texas?

In Texas, it is a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a maximum $500 fine for leaving a child in a vehicle in Texas. This offense is classified as neglectful supervision, which means CPS will also likely get notified and may launch their own investigation. If evidence of child abuse or neglect is found, the child could be removed from your home.

As we mentioned earlier, if the child suffers bodily injury or dies as a result of being left in the car, you could be facing much more serious charges – including a felony charge of endangering a child. We will discuss that next.

When is it a felony to leave a child in a vehicle in Texas?

There are several scenarios that could result in a felony charge of endangering a child, stemming from leaving a child in a vehicle unattended. In Texas, child endangerment occurs when someone puts a child under the age of 15 at risk of injury, disablement or death.

We often see this charge when people leave their children locked in hot vehicles and the child suffers from a heat-related illness or death. We also sometimes see this charge when a car is stolen with a child inside.

It's important to note that the child does not have to be your own to be accused of child endangerment. The act also doesn't have to be intentional. For example, you could be charged with child endangerment if you accidentally left your child in a hot vehicle and the child became ill or died.

What is the punishment for child endangerment?

Child endangerment is generally a state jail felony, punishable by six months to two years in a state jail facility and maximum $10,000 fine. It's important to speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer to find out exactly what punishment you could be facing if you have been accused of leaving a child in a vehicle in Texas.

What are some real examples of people being arrested after leaving a child in a vehicle in Texas?
  • In July 2022, a Houston woman was charged with endangering a child after leaving a 2-year-old child and puppy in a vehicle with the temperature in the triple digits.
  • In May 2022, a mother was arrested in the Spring area after she allegedly left her 3-year-old child in a running car alone while she shopped at a Target store.
  • In March 2022, an Odessa couple was arrested after leaving their three young children in a running vehicle while they went inside a restaurant to eat.
  • In May 2018, two parents were arrested after they left their children, ages 1 and 3, unattended in a hot car in Burleson with the windows slightly opened. The couple left the children in the car with their 14-year-old uncle, who later left the vehicle to get a drink. A bystander saw the children sweating heavily and called Burleson police.
Will I be arrested if I break into a locked car to get out a child or a pet?

If you see a child or pet locked in a hot car and they appear to be in distress, you can break the window to get them out without fear of repercussion. Texas law protects you from being charged under the Good Samaritan Act, which allows people to administer emergency care without being held liable for damages.

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