Can You Get In Trouble For Leaving a Child in a Car?

Yes, while people would rarely intend to leave a child in a car, it is a crime to do so under certain circumstances. These types of cases are popping up in the media more and more now.

What’s the Law

It is a misdemeanor to leave a child in a car unattended for a period of time that poses an unreasonable risk of harm or injury. This is punishable by up to 93 days in jail, fines, or both.

If the child suffers physical harm then the misdemeanor is punishable by up to one year instead of 93 days.

Where the child suffers serious physical harm, then the charge can be a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

A death of a child is a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. MCL 750.135a.

What are the Legal Specifics?

A child is an individual less than 6 years of age. Unattended means the child is alone or is not supervised by  a person at least 13 years old and who is not legally incapacitated.

What if You Didn’t Leave the Child in the Car on Purpose?

I think we can usually assume that a parent would never intentionally leave a child in a car while they run an errand. Generally the situation involves a stressed out and exhausted parent who makes a mistake.

Nevertheless, the law says that a person can be in trouble for this without specifically intending to leave the child in the car. Leaving the child in the car unattended is enough to be in trouble.

This comes from the legal case of People v. Haveman. In Haveman, a mother left two kids and two dogs in the car when she went to run an errand that took longer than she anticipated. Before trial, she argued that she had no intent to leave the children in the car. That she essentially made a mistake. The trial court would not allow her to make this argument to the jury.

She appealed, and the Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court. The Court ruled that a person need not have specific intent to leave a child in the car to be in trouble for this crime. A person can be convicted based on what’s called “general intent.”

You May Still Have Defenses to this Charge

Just because you can get in trouble without specific intent does not mean you are without defenses. There are still issues related to the circumstances involved with leaving the child in the car. The law does not say that you can never leave a child unattended in a car. Speak to a criminal lawyer about your situation and potential defenses to this charge.

Call us

Call Sam Bernstein at 734-883-9584 or e-mail at

Sam Bernstein is a Criminal Defense Attorney in Ann Arbor.

ArborYpsi Law is located at 4158 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48108.

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