Autistic Child Died in Hot Car
The Associated Press released a story regarding the arrest of a woman whose 5-year old autistic child died in a hot car. The boy was buckled into his car seat, on an 85-degree day. Normally, prosecutors have tremendous discretion in the decision to charge or not charge a parent in this type of case. However, there were multiple clues that caused them feel charges in the death of the son was suspicious.
In a recent continuing legal education seminar, the executive director of the Louisville Bar Association asked me about these types of cases.
Generally speaking, many of the “child left in car” cases are ruled accidents. In this specific case, the mother may have done it on purpose. Regardless of the remorse she may have shown when she realized her autistic child died in a hot car, electronic chat messages and Google searches found on her computer allegedly indicate she may have been involved in the homicide.
Each year, we learn of cases involving the deaths of children in vehicles. Society seems to understand the pain and anguish a parent will be forced to live with after the death. Some mistakes have tragic consequences, but remain mistakes.
In circumstances involving evidence that the child’s death was premeditated, planned and even orchestrated by a parent, society and our criminal law system takes an entirely different perspective. An experienced criminal defense attorney will have a tough time diffusing the natural bias a jury may have toward the defendant. It’s something we have to account for in jury selection (through the “voir dire” process) and in the ways we present the facts and evidence involved.
The fact that a young, autistic child died in a hot car is tragic. The new story quoted the mother as having admitted in her emails the night before the homicide, that she was “tired of poop, scribbles and pee.” The facts may not have been strong enough to support murder charges, but the negligent homicide charges are going to be difficult to escape.