Chicago Child Endangerment Guide

Child sleeping in the car
With bitter cold weather now upon us in Chicago, it’s a good idea to discuss a particular offense that commonly occurs during the winter. Endangering the life or health of a child is a criminal offense that occurs in all neighborhoods in Chicago and across the entire state of Illinois. It affects people who are rich, poor, educated and otherwise. Under our Illinois Statute, it basically says that a person commits this offense when he or she:

  • Endangers the health or life of a child under 18 years old, or
  • Places the child in some circumstances that endanger the child’s health

So, what exactly is child endangerment really? The answer is that this crime can be many different things and depending upon the police officer, the prosecutor and the judge involved, may be interpreted in different ways by different law enforcement and court personnel.

Leaving a Child Alone in a Car

Probably the most common situation that we see here at the Law Offices of Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC in that regard is when an adult leaves a child in a car unattended. Now this by itself is not always a crime. For instance, what if a parent has just returned home from a trip and the baby has fallen asleep in the car? The parent decides not to wake the child because he or she need rest, so the child is left in the car. What the parent does next is what will make the difference between what is perceived as a crime and acceptable behavior though. If the adult has parked the car in the driveway and stays close to the car while doing yard work or sitting in a chair reading a book for instance, then this is probably perfectly fine. Whether the child sleeps for two minutes or two hours, there’s likely no issue. On the other hand, if the adult goes into the house to perform some tasks or watch some television, that is when a crime has likely occurred. Why is that? It’s because when a child is left unattended, there is always a chance that they may be kidnapped or harmed by another person. If the adult is right outside the car, there is no issue, but if he or she out of view, anything can happen.

How Long is Too Long?

But how long is too long? It depends on the circumstances and the judge. Ten seconds is probably fine. So is a minute. Is two minutes ok? Maybe and maybe not. Is the car parked in a high crime area? Where is it parked? Is it outside a drug house or a Target store? Are the doors locked? Is the car running? Is the parent intoxicated? These things matter to the judge. So, the amount of time that is considered “too much” varies from case to case. But the law in Illinois does provide at least a little guidance in that regard. The statute that covers Chicago and all of Illinois says that the life or health of a child is basically assumed to have been endangered when a child age six or younger is left unattended in a motor vehicle for more than ten minutes. This is what is called a “rebuttable presumption” which means that it’s assumed to be a problem, but the defendant can always try to convince the court otherwise. A rebuttable presumption is like starting out with “one foot in the hole”.

Why Does the Weather Matter?

While in one set of circumstances it may be ok to leave a child unattended for a short while, in others it’s absolutely not. Often, when a defendant is prosecuted for Child Endangerment, the police and prosecution will present evidence at trial of the temperature that day, whether the car was on, whether the air conditioning or heat was on and whether the windows were cracked. Why? Because children can die or become extremely ill from extreme exposure to heat or cold in a very short period of time. So, temperature is always an important consideration in court.

What Does Unattended Mean?

It’s not required that the child be left alone in a car though. A child can be left in a park, in a stroller, or even alone in a locked house while they sleep in their own bed. The key is not where they are left alone, but with whom? The Illinois law even sets forth what it means for a child to be “unattended” and it says that this occurs when the child is either unaccompanied by a person age 14 or older or out of sight of that person.

Contact the Child endangerment Legal Team

Our attorneys have handled child endangerment for over 25 years and understand how to best defend those charged with such an offense. Contact our experienced legal team to discuss what can be done to protect your record at (312) 644-0444 or contact us online.

This blog is available for informational purposes only and is not considered legal advice on any subject matter. The blog should not be used as a substitute for legal advice from a licensed professional attorney, and readers are urged to consult their own legal counsel on specific legal questions.

Written by Mitchell S. Sexner Last Updated : December 30, 2021