Chief St. Louis prosecutor Jennifer Joyce must decide whether to file charges against a pediatrician and a medical researcher who inadvertently left their 7-month-old daughter to die in a parked car, says the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The number of children in the U.S. who die trapped in hot cars has risen sharply since 1994, when six died. The number averaged 36 a year from 1998 to 2006, and spiked at 43 in 2005. Experts say a key reason is that parents changed their habits in the mid-1990s because of front seat air bag deaths. That led to putting kids in back seats. Children, especially sleeping babies, can be out of sight and out of mind there.
A recent analysis of more than 300 cases of children who died in hot vehicles found that charges were filed in about half. About four in five cases resulted in convictions or guilty pleas, said The Associated Press. Half of those brought jail sentences, with the median sentence being two years. In the St. Louis case, passers-by spotted the baby after the girl had been in the car for more than four hours, and smashed a window to get to her. The temperature outside was 95 degrees; the car’s interior temperature could have reached about 140. “Prosecutors have almost unbridled discretion to decide whether or not to prosecute based on facts they have,” said law Prof. Joshua Dressler of Ohio State University. “Even if you have two cases that were exactly alike, you would not necessarily get the same outcome from two prosecutors looking at the same facts.”