N.J. court to decide if leaving sleeping toddler in car for minutes is child abuse

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The New Jersey Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of a woman who was arrested on charges of child endangerment after leaving her 19-month-old alone in her car.

In 2009, the woman court papers call “Eleanor” parked outside of a dollar store at the Middlesex Mall in South Plainfield. She left her sleeping daughter in the car while she went inside to stop, leaving the engine running and the windows cracked open. She was arrested when she returned to her vehicle.

In January, a state appeals court affirmed that the risk to the child amounted to child abuse.

The Supreme Court ruling could set a precedent in similar cases.

Ann Freedman, who teaches family and children’s law at Rutgers School of Law-Camden, said it’s a tough call.

“We want to make sure people who work with kids are not people who have criminal records or past behavior, but on the other hand this is a mistake of judgment that the mother made,” she said.

Creating clear standards for parental behavior while acknowledging that good parents make mistakes can be a hard balance to strike, Freedman said.

The appeals court suggested there would be flexibility under certain circumstances, saying the mother was at fault partly because she left the child in the car for her convenience, not out of need.

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