In the age of bubble-wrapped babies, many have assumed with absolute certainty that leaving a child in a car is inherently deadly. We’ve all heard the tragic stories of children baked to death when a parent goes off to party or a day in the office, while the back seat reaches killer temperatures. Yes, it can happen, just as it can happen that a child gets run down crossing the street. No, it isn’t inherently dangerous, or even an unduly reckless. The devil is in the details. And the intent.
But I’m here to tell you, literally, that it’s neither inherently deadly nor dangerous at all if handled thoughtfully. I say that because it was common practice when I was a kid, and my mother did not serve life plus cancer many times over.
That didn’t stop Philly police from arresting Dana Bazelon, sister to legal pundit Emily and my dear friend and criminal defense warrior, Lara.
A policy adviser to Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner was arrested Monday and charged with endangering the welfare of a child for allegedly leaving her 4-year-old daughter unattended in her car for more than a half-hour.
Dana Lynn Bazelon, 40, was taken into custody about 3:30 p.m. on Rittenhouse Street near Lincoln Drive in West Mount Airy, according to Mark Shade, a spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office, which is handling the matter.
Before dealing with the unique collateral problems, it’s worth focusing on the allegations.
Bazelon took her 6-year-old son for a walk and left her sleeping daughter in the backseat of her Ford Fusion with all four windows cracked but not enough for a person to be able to reach inside, a law-enforcement source said.
For this, she was charged with felony child endangerment. The windows were cracked, so as to prevent the interior of the car from overheating. The doors were locked so as to prevent any stranger from snatching the child. Her daughter was asleep, so it wasn’t as if she simply decided to leave her in the car so she could go party. What more could she have done to assure that her daughter was at no risk? It makes no difference, and indeed, many people reading this will believe that there is no excuse, no circumstance, no accommodation that could ever justify leaving a child in a car unattended.
It’s not that anyone would argue that it’s a “best practice,” but a reality for many parents trying to manage the world without taking any actual risks with their kids. As strongly as some will believe this was dangerous, it was very much the norm for generations, and no mother thought twice about it. They may not have won mother of the year for it, but they surely weren’t charged with a felony for it either.
But then there’s the political overlay, that Dana Bazelon was a criminal defense lawyer who joined Larry Krasner when he was elected Philadelphia District Attorney. Because of the obvious conflict, the case is being handled by the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office. While Josh Shapiro, the AG, is a Democrat, there is no love lost between him and Krasner, and this provides not only an opportunity to make a point about how Shapiro won’t tolerate crime within or without prosecutorial circles, but provides a perfect path to smacking Larry Krasner and the “true nature” of his staff.
“Dana Bazelon has spent her life and career caring for and protecting people,” Funt said. “Since before this pandemic began and especially during these last few trying months, Ms. Bazelon has worked tirelessly to protect victims of crime as well as all the citizens of Philadelphia.
“What is alleged today does not reflect the kind, caring, and loving mother she is. We are confident that when all of the facts are revealed, her true nature will be vindicated.”
In an unpoliticized world, this is the sort of case where a reasonable prosecutor would take a hard look at the conduct as alleged by police and recognize that this isn’t a case to prosecute, and certainly not as a felony.
It’s not that I endorse leaving kids in cars, but that doesn’t mean it rises to the level of a crime. Dana Bazelon took actions to mitigate risks and there is nothing to suggest that there was anything about the situation that gave rise to any actual risk of harm.
The fact that leaving children in a car was commonplace years ago doesn’t make it a good idea; lord knows there were many common things done by mothers that weren’t the best idea back then. But it does temper the notion that this is so inherently dangerous under any circumstances as to make it so reckless, so deviant, as to be tantamount to per se endangerment.
The question now is whether Josh Shapiro’s office can step back, not see this through a political lens but as a reasonable prosecutor whose duty is to do justice, and exercise the discretion to dismiss the charge as should happen if this was any other mother who made a poor, but not criminal, choice and never put her child in any real danger.