family time
It's The Law!
The penalty for leaving your child unsupervised

Connecticut, like other states, has recently enacted legislation all parents should be aware of.

The Law
An act concerning the penalty for leaving a child unsupervised in a place of public accommodation or a motor vehicle (Conn. Public Act 97-298). This act makes it a crime punishable for up to one year imprisonment (A Misdemeanor) and/or a fine of up to $2,000 for a parent, guardian or person with custody, or supervision of a child under age 12, to knowingly leave him unsupervised in a place of public accommodation or a motor vehicle for a period of time that presents a substantial risk to his health or safety. It makes it a class C Felony (punishable by one to ten years imprisonment, and up to $10,000 fine or both), if the child is left between the hours of 8:00 pm and 6:00 am and a class D Felony, (punishable by one to five years imprisonment, up to $5,000 fine or both), if the public accommodation holds a permit for the sale of alcoholic liquor for on-premise consumption.

The Scenario
The "period of time" element referred to in the Public Act language is ambiguous and open to subjective interpretation as to the specific time period which would constitute a violation of the Act. The subjective nature of the language of the Act should force parents to scrutinize every action when it comes to transporting children in the family car. Common sense dictates that the Act is aimed at penalizing thoughtless parents in obvious situations where, for example, a parent leaves his children in a locked vehicle for an hour while conducting holiday shopping at the mall.

On the other hand, consider the parent who runs into the gas station to pay for gas or runs to withdraw money from an ATM never leaving the sight of the child. Does this limited "period of time" present a "substantial risk" to the child's health or safety?

You would be surprised at how often the above scenarios occur and the number of persons prosecuted for violating this Act. The subjective nature of the Act leaves open the possibility that even the most conscientious parent could endure great embarrassment and even a criminal record depending on how the local police department interprets this law.


Eugene Calistro is an Assistant State's Attorney for the State of CT and the father of two.


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