One is a college professor. He and his wife had struggled for years to have a child, and conceived their son through IVF. One day, after a night of being awakened by the baby, he drives to work, and completely forgets his son in the back seat.
Another worked as a horse groomer, a non-citizen, working 16 hour days, and taking care of his daughter the entire time. One day he decided to spend a few hours betting on horses after work, and left his daughter in the car.
Both have already suffered a great tragedy by losing their children. But is one more at fault than the other? Does one deserve prison time more than the other?
Well, the college professor is White, and the horse groomer is from Peru. So, the public defender background in me can tell you, just from that information, who goes to prison.
Maybe the additional fact that the college professor was at work, while the horse groomer was betting on the ponies matters. But should it? Probably not. I mean, the baby in the car doesn't know (or care) why daddy left her there.
The article also points out that the college professor had "studied parenting books," while the horse groomer presumably had less time and education for reading books, the article states that he "had no idea" a car could heat up in that way. He left the window open just an inch because he was afraid that if he left it open further, someone might take the child. Obviously he cared, he just didn't understand. His IQ was low, his defense attorney called him "borderline retarded."
In my mind, that makes the college professor more responsible. He knew, or could have known, or should have known the consequences of his actions.
Ultimately, though, the issue came down to the fact that the college professor "forgot" his son in the car, while the horse groomer made an uninformed decision to leave his daughter in the car. Why is it better to forget your child than to not understand how quickly a car can become too hot for a baby?
Because he was just forgetful, the college professor was not prosecuted. The horse groomer was sentenced to 20 years in prison, and will be deported when he finishes his term. The college professor and his wife went on to have 3 more children.
Another article points out more sentencing disparities: Sentences Vary When Kids Die in Hot Cars. The article points out that these deaths rose when laws changed to require parents to put car seats in the back seat, rather than in the front seat.
According to this article:
_Mothers are treated much more harshly than fathers. While mothers and fathers are charged and convicted at about the same rates, moms are 26 percent more likely to do time. And their median sentence is two years longer than the terms received by dads.
_Day care workers and other paid baby sitters are more likely than parents to be charged and convicted. But they are jailed less frequently than parents, and for less than half the time.
_Charges are filed in half of all cases — even when a child was left unintentionally.
In cases where parents are charged, sentences range from 20 years in prison to pretrial diversionary programs (the charges will be dismissed after a period of probation and other conditions such as parenting classes). Some judges are more creative in finding sentences that they believe fit the crime. One mother was ordered to produce a video about her ordeal to be used in parenting classes. A babysitter was ordered to pay the child's funeral expenses, make donations to the hospital that treated the child, in addition to eight months in prison.
Most creatively, one judge sentenced a father to "spend one day a year in jail for seven years and to hold an annual blood drive around the anniversary of his daughter's death."
The most important thing that can be done is to educate parents that don't ordinarily have access to parenting books and informational websites about the dangers of leaving children in a car so that parents and caregivers don't make bad decisions.
Also, if you've been to a baby shower in the past year, you know that there are a million gadgets for sale to ease any parents' neurosis. So, why can't something be created, whether it's as hi-tech as an alarm or a low-tech as a post-it note on the dashboard that says "DON'T FORGET THE BABY!" Hundreds of children die this way, and it is something so easy to avoid.
I recently noticed a car commercial which touted a "heartbeat monitor" so that the woman approaching her car in the dark parking lot would know that there was a psychopath hiding in the backseat. I would imagine that this could be used in reverse, to alert a parent walking away from the car that the child is still in the backseat. I can imagine this someday becoming a mandatory safety feature for parents, much like child car seats.
That helps solve the problem of parents who "forget" their children. But this country has a far way to go before we solve the problem of parents who leave their children in the car while they work because they can't afford childcare.