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C.G.S. § 53-21a – Leaving a Child Unsupervised in a Motor Vehicle or a Place of Public Accommodation

Overview

Leaving a Child Unsupervised Under C.G.S. § 53-21a, Connecticut makes it a crime for a parent, guardian or someone supervising a child to knowingly leave a child under the age of 12 years old alone in a motor vehicle or unsupervised in a place of public accommodation for a length of time that creates a risk of harm to the child's health or safety. This statute was created to lessen the severity of these offenses, which would have otherwise have been charged as risk of injury to a minor, a felony.

C.G.S. § 53-21a allows the police some discretion to charge parents with a less severe misdemeanor under certain circumstances. This statute also provides for more strict penalties for anyone who leaves a child unattended in a motor vehicle or place of public accommodation from the hours of 8:00 p.m. until 6:00 a.m., or in a place that serves liquor.

Leaving a child unattended in a very hot or cold vehicle in the extreme temperatures of summer of winter will often result in the more serious charge of risk of injury to a minor C.G.S. § 53-21(a) due to the dangers that the temperatures pose to safety of the child.

Regrettably, this lower level offense only applies to motor vehicles and places of public accommodation, so if you leave a child under 12 unattended in another place, (such as your home), you will face the more serious allegation of risk of injury to a minor or C.G.S. § 53-21(a).

Elements of the Crime Which Must be Proven by The State

There are four different situations that this statute covers, and each one has a different level of punishment. To be found guilty of a violation of C.G.S. § 53-21a, the state's attorney must be able to prove the following elements of the offense:

Four different situations possible:

C.G.S. § 53-21a(a)

  1. The defendant was a parent, guardian or someone providing supervision, such as a babysitter;
  2. The child was under 12 years of age;
  3. The defendant knowingly left the child unsupervised in a motor vehicle or a place of public accommodation;
  4. The length of time the child was left unattended created a substantial risk of harm

C.G.S. § 53-21a(b)

  1. The defendant was a parent, guardian or someone providing supervision, such as a babysitter;
  2. The child was under 12 years of age;
  3. The defendant knowingly left the child unsupervised in a place of public accommodation that has a liquor permit;
  4. The length of time the child was left unattended created a substantial risk of harm

C.G.S. § 53-21a(c)

  1. The defendant was a parent, guardian or someone providing supervision, such as a babysitter;
  2. The child was under 12 years of age;
  3. The defendant knowingly left the child unsupervised in a motor vehicle or a place of public accommodation;
  4. The length of time the child was left unattended created a substantial risk of harm and occurred between the hours of 8:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.

C.G.S. § 53-21a(d)

  1. The defendant was a parent, guardian or someone providing supervision, such as a babysitter;
  2. The child was under 12 years of age;
  3. The defendant knowingly fails to report the disappearance of the child to a law enforcement agency.
Examples

A woman is rushing to get all her shopping done and leaves her sleeping 8-year-old son in her car while she goes into a convince store to do some shopping. A concerned citizen calls 911, and the police arrive to find the eight-year-old locked in the car. The woman could be charged with a violation of C.G.S. § 53-21a(a).

The same example as the above situation only it occurred between the hours of 8:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. The woman could be charged with the more severe crime of C.G.S. § 53-21a(c), which is a Class C felony.

A man is babysitting a 10-year-old girl for his girlfriend for the evening while she is working a nightshift. He takes the child to a local bar for dinner. He becomes slightly intoxicated and leaves the bar without taking the child with him. A concerned citizen calls 911, and the police come to safeguard the child. The man could be charged with a violation of C.G.S. § 53-21a(b).

Related Offenses Defenses to Connecticut General Statutes C.G.S. § 53-21a – Leaving a Child Unsupervised in a Motor Vehicle or a Place of Public Accommodation

The number one defense to this crime is a lack of knowledge on the part of the parent or guardian. In circumstances where a child darts off in a split second of inattention, a defense lawyer can argue that the defendant did not act with the required level of knowledge. The action by the parent or guardian must have been knowing to be guilty of this offense.

Similarly, leaving a child unattended for a few brief moments is part of normal life and is not illegal under the statute. The statute specifies that the child must have been left unattended for a period of time that created a significant risk of harm to the child. Often these allegations can be defended based upon the theory that not enough time lapsed to create a risk of harm to the child. There is no black and white rule about how long that period of time is, and it depends on the circumstances of each case.

The accelerated rehabilitation program is commonly used to resolve these kinds of allegations for first-time offenders who have not previously used the AR program in the past ten years. If you are successful in the completion of the AR program, the charges against you would be dismissed.

DCF Referrals

In every instance that an arrest is made for C.G.S. § 53-21a the police are going to notify the Department of Children and Families (DCF), who will initiate an investigation concerning the welfare of the affected child. These investigations can become intrusive and annoying. Often these investigations are resolved promptly and without many inconveniences. However, in some situations, these DCF investigations can become overly intrusive and invasive. If DCF has contacted you concerning an arrest for C.G.S. § 53-21a you should speak with an experienced Connecticut criminal defense lawyer about your rights.

Penalties

The penalties for a violation of C.G.S. § 53-21a range in severity based upon which subsection of the statute you are charged with.

Apparently, the legislature found that losing track of your child after 8:00 p.m. is particularly reprehensible as this offense jumps from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class C felony if the offense occurs after 8:00 p.m.

C.G.S. § 53-21a(a) and C.G.S. § 53-21a(d) are Class A misdemeanors punishable by up to 1 year in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.

C.G.S. § 53-21a(b) is a Class D Felony punishable by up to five years in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.

C.G.S. § 53-21a(c) is a Class C felony punishable by up to ten years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000.

Criminal Defense for Leaving a Child Unsupervised in a Motor Vehicle or a Place of Public Accommodation

If you, or a friend, has been arrested for leaving a child unsupervised in a motor vehicle in violation of C.G.S. § 53-21a, you should immediately consult an experienced Connecticut criminal defense attorney. Stamford criminal lawyer Allan F. Friedman has the experience to defend you against these kinds of allegations and achieve the most optimal result possible.

For more information about defending leaving children unsupervised in a motor vehicle allegations in violation of C.G.S. § 53-21a, contact Stamford criminal lawyer Allan F. Friedman at The Law Offices of Allan F. Friedman to arrange your free, no-obligation, initial consultation. Our offices are located at 24 Hoyt St #A, Stamford, CT 06905. Mr. Friedman can be reached 24/7 at (203) 357-5555, or you can contact us online for a prompt response.

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