Can I get in trouble for leaving my child alone at home or in the car?
Depending on the circumstances and the age of a child, leaving a child alone at home or in a vehicle can lead to an arrest and serious consequences. In Texas, charges that could stem from leaving a child alone or in harms way include abandoning a child, endangering a child, or leaving a child in a vehicle. Abandoning and endangering are two separate felony offenses that apply to children under the age of 15. Leaving a child in a vehicle applies to children under the age of 7. Here’s a breakdown of all three offenses.
Abandoning a Child
Texas law doesn’t specify what age is old enough for a child to stay home alone. However, if you decide to leave a child under 15 at home alone and something bad happens, such as a fire or injury, you could find yourself facing criminal abandonment charges.
Texas law describes child abandonment as leaving a child without providing reasonable and necessary care for the child – circumstances under which no reasonable, similarly situated adult would have left a child of that age and ability.
Under Texas Penal Code 22.041(b), a person commits an offense if, having custody, care, or control of a child younger than 15 years, he intentionally abandons the child in any place under circumstances that expose the child to an unreasonable risk of harm.
There are different degrees to this offense, depending on the facts and circumstances of the case:
Abandoning a Child – State Jail Felony
If the individual abandoned the child but intended to return, it is a state jail felony punishable by six months to 2 years in a state jail facility and a potential fine up to $10,000.
Abandoning a Child – Third Degree Felony
If the individual abandoned the child and did not intend to return, it is a third-degree felony punishable by imprisonment of 2 to 10 years and a potential fine of up to $10,000.
Abandoning a Child – Second Degree Felony
If the individual abandons the child under circumstances that a reasonable person would believe would place the child in imminent danger of death, bodily injury, or physical or mental impairment, it is a second degree felony punishable by 2 to 20 years imprisonment and a potential fine of up to $10,000.
Endangering a Child
Under Texas Penal Code 22.041(c), a person that intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence, by act or omission, engages in conduct that places a child younger than 15 years in imminent danger of death, bodily injury, or physical or mental impairment commits a state jail felony.
For example, possessing or manufacturing methamphetamine in a child’s presence or leaving a handgun within a child’s reach could constitute child endangerment. Notice for endangering a child, there is no requirement for the child to have been under the care, custody, or control of the actor. Additionally, the child must be placed in imminent danger.
Leaving a Child in a Vehicle
Under Texas Penal Code 22.10, it is illegal to leave a child alone in a motor vehicle for more than five minutes, if the child is younger than 7 and is not accompanied by someone 14 or older.
This offense is a Class C misdemeanor, which carries a punishment range of up to $500.
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Penal Code Sec. 22.10
LEAVING A CHILD IN A VEHICLE.
(a) A person commits an offense if he intentionally or knowingly leaves a child in a motor vehicle for longer than five minutes, knowing that the child is:
(1) younger than seven years of age; and
(2) not attended by an individual in the vehicle who is 14 years of age or older.
(b) An offense under this section is a Class C misdemeanor.