NJ high court to decide if leaving toddler in car for several minutes is neglect

The New Jersey Supreme Court is considering whether leaving a young child alone in a car constitutes neglect or abuse.

The case before the court began six years ago when a woman left her 19-month-old belted into a car seat with the engine running, the doors locked and windows slightly open while she went into a South Plainfield store for between five and 10 minutes.

Attorney Sean Marotta said Monday his client’s action that day was an aberration.

“We’re not just saying that every parent gets one free bite,” he said. “What we’re saying is that where the parent has shown that she’s no risk of harm to her children or any child, then an abuse or neglect finding is not appropriate.”

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Deputy Attorney General Erin O’Leary argued the Division of Youth and Family Services followed well-settled principles of child neglect in launching an investigation of the incident.

“The division has an obligation, I think the legislature has made it clear, to step in to protect children before they’re actually harmed,” O’Leary said.

Justice Anne Patterson questioned Gary Mitchell with the Office of Parental Representation about his argument that the case should not have been pursued administratively.

“So you’re inferring, from the way the division has prosecuted or hasn’t prosecuted this matter, essentially an implicit recognition that this child was never in imminent risk?” she said.

“Yes Justice, I think that’s a powerful indication of that,” Mitchell said.

There’s no indication when the court will issue a ruling.

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