A mother in the Philadelphia area has been charged with child endangerment after police claim she left her two-year-old daughter in a car for over two hours. The girl died from the incident.
Details surrounding the tragedy, however, suggest that the mother might not be the one who was responsible and illustrate the difference between raising legal defenses to a criminal accusation and challenging the prosecutor's case.
Philadelphia Woman Charged with Child Endangerment
The incident happened on May 6, 2019. A toddler in Lakewood, New Jersey – a suburb 60 miles east of Philadelphia – died after being left in the car for over two hours.
Temperatures that day ranged from the upper 60s into the low 70s. However, it seems as if the car had been turned off, with the doors and windows closed, and left in direct sunlight.
Police responded to the emergency call and found a neighbor giving the child CPR. She was rushed to the hospital but died a short time later.
Apparently, the mother had taken the child to daycare, but the child didn't want to go in. When they got back home, there was miscommunication between the toddler's mother and father about who would bring her in from the car. Each parent thought that the other one had done it.
The mother is now being charged with child endangerment. It does not appear that the father is facing a criminal charge over the incident.
Raising Legal Defenses Versus Challenging the Prosecutor's Case
Much of criminal defense law focuses on the legal defenses that a criminal defense attorney can raise on their client's behalf. It can be your Fourth Amendment rights, arguing that the police violated your constitutional rights while investigating a crime. Or it could be entrapment, arguing that police coerced you into committing a crime that you would not have done, otherwise. Or it could be insanity, arguing that you did not understand what you were doing at the time of the crime, and should not be held criminally responsible for it.
However, in some cases, a better defense strategy is simply to challenge the prosecutor's case and make it clear that they have not satisfied their burden of proof. In criminal cases, prosecutors have the burden of showing that you committed a crime and that there are no reasonable doubts that you did it. This is a high standard, and raising those reasonable doubts about their case can be a more effective defense strategy than more traditional legal defenses.
For example, in this particular case, there seems to be a serious question about which parent was responsible for bringing the toddler in from the car. Because criminal charges were only filed against the mother, any reasonable doubt that she was supposed to go back out and get the child could be enough for an acquittal.