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Vehicle-Related Heat Deaths in Miami: Mistake or Not, The Consequences Are Serious

We see it all over television every summer: parents leaving their children in a hot, sealed car and ending up being charged with everything from child neglect to murder. Whether it is for a few minutes to several hours, Florida prosecutors are very aggressive in charging parents in these cases. Prosecutors and law enforcement are likely to ramp up their focus on vehicle-related neglect, now that the media has caught on to the growing epidemic of child vehicle-related heatstroke deaths. Most recently, the story of Justin Ross Harris, who has been charged with first-degree murder in Georgia, after leaving his child in the car for over 7 hours, has captured the country’s attention.

According to www.kidsandcars.org, across the United States, 606 children under age 15 died as a result of vehicle-related heat deaths between 1990 and 2010, including 60 in Florida. So far this year there have been 25 reported cases of these types of deaths, including 2 in Florida, where temperatures can reach 140 degrees in a matter of minutes. (And no, cracking the window is no help at all.) Leaving your child in the vehicle for any amount of time can have serious health and criminal consequences, regardless if it was a mistake or not. Of course, given Florida’s year-round climate, this risk is not confined to the summer months alone.

Florida Laws and Penalties

Under Florida law, child neglect resulting in bodily harm is a second degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison; if no bodily harm is sustained, it is a third degree felony with a maximum prison sentence of 5 years. For the vehicle-related heat death of a child, the charge is aggravated manslaughter of a child, a second degree felony, or murder, which, depending on degree, may be punished by up to life in prison without parole, or death by lethal injection in extreme cases.

In a nutshell, the difference between murder and manslaughter is that murder requires the premeditated mental intent, or state of mind, to cause the death of another person. Manslaughter is charged for a death that is a result of a negligent accident or some other act done without the intent to cause said death.

There are two types of manslaughter under Florida law (Sec. 782.07, Florida Statutes). “Simple” manslaughter applies to a death that results from the act or culpable negligence of another; aggravated manslaughter applies under similar circumstances, but where the victim is an elderly person, disabled adult, under the age of 18, or a police officer, firefighter, or emergency medical technician.

The educated and uneducated, the rich and the poor, mothers and fathers, even grandparents and babysitters: all face potential criminal charges for leaving children in a hot car. Whether or not any resulting harm was done to the child, such charges are a serious matter.

Other Child Abuse/Neglect Issues

Child neglect can also be charged for failing to provide children under your care with the proper level of nutrition, clothing, shelter, supervision, or medical services. Criminal charges for malnutrition and lack of supervision have been common in Florida in recent years. The charges can range from first degree to third degree felonies. Corporal punishment such as hitting, spanking, slapping or kicking a child can also result in criminal charges in Florida under the child abuse statutes.

If you have been charged with these crimes, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Contact the Tony Moss Firm, L.L.C., in Miami or Ft. Lauderdale today to discuss your case and to begin crafting a defense.

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