California Mother Charged With Child Endangerment for Leaving Kids in Hot Car

On July 8, 2018, a 34-year-old mother was arrested by Ontario police in a Walmart parking lot. Crystal Reyna Gonzalez had allegedly left her two children, a 1-year-old and a nine-month-old, locked in the car for 30 minutes, with no air conditioning on while she went inside the store to shop. Due to a heat wave on the day of the incident, the temperatures were in the 90’s, however the conditions in the locked vehicle caused temperatures inside the car to be between 109 and 122 degrees.

Police were notified by a passerby and the children were found at the scene around 7:44pm. Both were sweating and crying, clearly distressed by what they had been put through. Gonzalez returned to her vehicle as police were working to free the children from it, and claimed that she had only been gone for a few moments. Police found this hard to believe, and Gonzalez was arrested and charged with child endangerment on grounds that her reckless behavior could have cost the children’s lives.

Child endangerment is defined by California Penal Code 273(a), which punishes someone who willfully puts a child in a dangerous position, or in a position to suffer unjustifiable physical or mental pain.Unlike California’s “child abuse” law AKA Penal Code 273(d), “child endangerment” does not require physical harm or injury; it simply requires the possibility of danger to the child.

Penal Code 273(a) applies to minors under the age of 18, and can be charged against anyone, not just parents. Punishment for offender varies depending on the likelihood “to produce great bodily harm or death.” With no possibility of either, the offender is charged with a misdemeanor crime. However, with the presence of said risk, it becomes a “wobbler” offense; it may either be treated as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the circumstances, and in the prosecutor’s discretion.

Gonzalez has since been released on bail, and does not have a court date set yet. However, penalties against Gonzalez for misdemeanor child endangerment can include:

  • Imprisonment of up to a year in county jail
  • Probation of about four years
  • A fine of $1,000

If charged as a felony, Gonzalez will have to face more severe penalties. These can involve:

  • Imprisonment of two, four or up to six years in California state prison
  • Probation of at least four years
  • A fine of up to $10,000

Because the definition of child endangerment in Penal Code 273a is quite broad, and since no actual injury is required, it is frequently wrongfully charged against innocent people. Some defenses against such accusations include the right to discipline your child, and the lack of gross negligence – which must show a conscious disregard for human life.

If you or someone you know has been falsely charged with the crime of child endangerment, contact us at (310) 448-1529 or contact us online to schedule a consultation. Our office is conveniently located in the Westside Towers in Los Angeles, within minutes of Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Westwood, and steps away from the Expo/Bundy Station. We have flexible hours and weekend appointments, and we will visit you in jail to discuss your case.

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