Charges vary for cases involving children left in cars - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

Charges vary for cases involving children left in cars

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Last summer, two children died in central Alabama after being left inside vehicles in sweltering heat.

In both cases, one in Homewood, another in Anniston. The mother forgot to remove her child.

Jefferson County district attorney's office chose not to charge the Homewood woman who left her daughter in her vehicle.

However, in Calhoun County, the mother of a little boy is awaiting trial on a charge of manslaughter.

Jefferson County disdistricttorney Brandon Falls says at the time, his office didn't feel like they had enough evidence to charge the woman in Homewood, and prove her guilt.

Falls says a lot depends on the facts surrounding a case.

No one should ever leave a child in a car, but depending on the facts, it may or may not be a crime.

Brandon Falls explains why that could be the case. 

"Leaving a child in a hot car, may or may not be criminal, depending on the length of time, what the intent of the person was. You have to look at the entire situation," says Falls. "If there's no harm to the child, no physical injury to the child, if the child hasn't been deprived of any food, nutrition, then you may have no case, because you can't prove any physical injury."

Right now, there is no child endangerment statute in Alabama.

Instead, Falls outlined several different charges an individual could face for leaving a child in a hot car.

The first, a Class A misdemeanor charge of reckless endangerment, which carries a maximum sentence of 12 months.

Next, child abuse, which could bring as much as 20 years in prison.

Third, manslaughter, a reckless act leading to death. A guilty verdict brings two to 20 years behind bars.

Lastly, murder. For this charge, the prosecution must be able to prove intent. If guilty, the sentence is ten years to life. 

In Calhoun County, 35-year-old Katherine Papke of Anniston was arrested and charged with manslaughter after leaving her child in a vehicle in August of 2013.

The case is ongoing.

Her attorney, Jim Sturdivant would only say this issue should be considered a matter of public health.

In an interview with ABC 33/40 in August of last year, Sturdivant said he believed prosecutors acted hastily in charging Papke with manslaughter. 

"This situation is a tragedy. And I think it is being compounded by ruining my clients future with the army and in general by trying to label her as a felon, when in fact this was a simple, honest mistake and it could happen to anybody," says Sturdivant.

 Attempts to reach the Calhoun County district attorney, Brian McVeigh were not successful.

 

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