Free Dana Bazelon

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.

61 thoughts on “Free Dana Bazelon

  1. Richard Kopf

    SHG,

    If there is a stronger word than “absurd” to describe the arrest and charging of Ms. Bazelon I cannot think of it.

    Taking one child for a short walk while leaving a younger sibling sleeping (likely in car seat) and in a locked car, with windows cracked, is the quintessential balancing act mothers and some fathers must perform each day. Talk about a nanny state.

    Oh, I just thought of another word that might be applied to this situation. Enraging.

    All the best.

    RGK

    1. SHG Post author

      I can think of a few other choice words as well. The promiscuity with which we criminalize conduct as a social prophylactic is outrageous.

    2. Steve UK

      I respectfully disagree. I don’t have the pleasure of having children but I know enough that a cracked window won’t mitigate the temperature even when it isn’t baking hot; and while the weather conditions aren’t made clear in the article, I can’t think of anyone, never mind myself, who would leave a four-year-old unattended in public. Cracked windows keep out neither greenhouse sun nor criminals.

      I can’t offer an opinion on the correct charging level but it seems criminally negligent to me.

      1. SHG Post author

        It was 61 degrees in Philly. There was no baking risk. That you’re (but in fairness, you’re not alone) hysterical about the threat to children doesn’t make this inherently dangerous.

      2. David Meyer-Lindenberg

        I didn’t know the backseat of a Briton’s car is considered public. I realize space is at a premium in Europe, but come on. And it must be very embarrassing for your teenagers.

      3. Zack

        In 61 degree weather I might not crack the windows when I left my 3-year old sleeping in her car seat. But then we are adapted to Sacramento temperatures here, so 61 is cold–definitely jacket weather. I might not walk out of sight of the car, but it seems a little crazy to be a felony for doing so when no harm occurs.

  2. Hunting Guy

    John 8:7

    “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”

    I wonder how many times the police that arrested her and Josh Shapiro and the people in his office left a child in a car?

      1. losingtrader

        Drinking that coffee obligated the cops to arrest, because everyone knows coffee is for closers.

  3. Scott

    Shapiro is up for reelection this year and as you can imagine eyeing the governorship.

    His overreach this year has been pretty great. My finance works for him in consumer protection and they are taking any and all cases and complaints including price gouging complaints regarding the the state run liquor stores and complaints from out of state businesses where the transaction happened out of state.

    Him taking this on does not surprise me in the least. Tough on crime, save the children, etc, etc. This is the stuff that people eat up.

    1. SHG Post author

      Sadly, he’ll have no problem throwing Bazelon under the bus to further his ambition, and there may not be many who appreciate what he’s doing or care.

  4. B. McLeod

    Title 18, section 4304 provides that a person supervising a child commits an offense if the person “knowingly endangers the welfare of the child by violating a duty of care, protection or support.” It looks like the section auto-upgrades the charge to a felony if the child is under six years of age.

    This is a pretty vague piece of shit law on its face, and as applied in this case, even worse. If there is not commonwealth case law establishing that this law creates a violation on exactly these facts, I would expect the case to be pitched by the court without trial. The law is insufficient to put a reasonable person on notice that the conduct here would be chargeable as a crime.

  5. Joe O.

    There’s a summary offense in the vehicle code for this exact fact pattern, yet they chose to go for the felony. Maybe they couldn’t find it in the computer system because it’s inconspicuously named “Leaving an unattended child in a motor vehicle.”

    1. SHG Post author

      The elements of the summary offense might have made prosecution difficult.

      (a) General rule.–A person driving or in charge of a motor vehicle may not permit a child under six years of age to remain unattended in the vehicle when the motor vehicle is out of the person’s sight and under circumstances which endanger the health, safety or welfare of the child.

      There is no information about whether the child was out of sight and the circumstances clearly don’t show endangerment. So what choice did they have but to charge the felony? Oh wait.

  6. Dan J

    The only relevant piece of information here that could possibly justify these charges would seem to be temperature. Given the weather data says the high was 61 and mostly cloudy, surely the officers took a temperature reading inside the car to cause their concern.

    1. Joseph

      The ONLY thing? You lack imagination. What if the 4 year old woke up and walked away? What if a child predator came along and snatched him? What if the parked car got hit by a drunk driver? What if the child undid the emergency break and the car rolled away? What if the mother and sibling had a medical emergency while out on their walk? What if the child found something in the glove compartment and swallowed it?

      So many bad things could have happened.

      1. SHG Post author

        You left out space aliens. There are a million possible things that can happen to anyone at any time, even though the likelihood of it is minuscule. We should all lock ourselves and our children in closets for our own welfare. But then an asteroid might crash down on the house and kill us. OH NO, WE’RE DOOMED!!!

      2. Dan J

        At risk of getting into reddit-levels of discourse here, every single concern you have applies to basically every situation ever, including if the parent is present. So unless your contention is actually that a hypothetical possibility of bad things happening is justification for felony charges, your argument is weak. Or we better start building more jails to hold every parent ever.

  7. Smart Joe

    This wasn’t a momentary “I ran into a store for a moment & kept my child in eyesight” momemt. She went for a walk on a park trail for at least 35 mins and that’s when police were called & responded. The 4yr old who was able to open the car for police, could have also been lured to open it or woke up frightened because her mother abandoned her and opened the door and gotten ran over, lost etc… If a gambler leaves a 4 yr old in a car to gamble for 35-55 mins they would be arrested as well.
    Would any of you supporters to leaving this 4yr old unattended in a veh, really be OK with your babysitter or nanny leaving your 4yr old in a veh unattended, out of their sight for 35-55 mins while they went for a walk or run in a park? Don’t pretend like you would embrace your sitter/nanny when u found out.

    1. SHG Post author

      You inadvertently raise a good point. If your nanny did this, you wouldn’t find it acceptable and you would fire her, not prosecute her. But then, a nanny isn’t a mother. A mother’s latitude in child-rearing is entirely different, and constitutionally protected I might add, than a nanny. Or a cop.

    2. David Meyer-Lindenberg

      As a parent, you get to exercise your judgment* when hiring a nanny. You get to exercise it again when deciding whether an incident like this one is okay, and whether to keep her. But if you endorse police interventions like the one that happened here, you’re also inviting whatever stranger called the cops to override your judgment with theirs.

      You concede that there are “momentary momemts” of leaving a kid in a car that are okay, and less momentary momemts that aren’t. Whom do you think you, as a responsible parent, should trust to decide which is which? Yourself? Or the peanut gallery?

      *If you’re reading this, Steve, it’s like judgement but with more bald eagles.

      **Trigger warning.

  8. Erik H

    “It’s not that I endorse leaving kids in cars”

    I do! I left my kids in the car all the time so long as the weather was cool. A child of that age can count, talk, perform surprisingly complex tasks–hell, mine were starting to read. They can easily entertain themselves with blocks for a while.

    CAN they get in trouble? Sure. But unless you live in an institution designed for safety, a four year old can also get into trouble perfectly well at home.

    If people think it’s OK to let kids skateboard, mountain bike, surf, snowboard, drive, drive with other sober teenage friends, take the subway, and do a lot of other things which are probably more dangerous than sleepig in a car in the spring for 1/2 hour… how to they explain themselves?

    As for the nanny: “ignore the kids” isn’t what they’re being paid for. A better question is “if my kid was staying w/ my sister for the weekend and my sister left the kid safely sleeping in a car for 1/2 hour, would I expect to know, and would I be angry?” That answer is “no, and no.”

    1. SHG Post author

      Whether you think it’s fine or not is a matter of personal choice. Using your kid for target practice is inherently dangerous. For many people these days, letting your kid play outside without adult supervision is tantamount to neglect or abuse. They’re incapable of grasping that anything other than permanently bubble-wrapping their kids isn’t endangerment.

      The point is that a parent makes those choices and choices with which the hysterical disagree may be poor (to some people’s minds) but aren’t criminal.

    2. delurking

      “If people think it’s OK to let kids…”

      Every time I read about one of these cases, all I see is a law enforcement officer saying “in my judgment, it is too risky”. No one has ever been charged for taking their kids on a 1-hour drive for fun, which puts them at roughly 1 in 3 million chance of death. How is it that the first and last question to the officer isn’t something like “please show your evidence that the kid was at more risk than 1 in 3 million” or whatever the relevant risk scale is for the time period the kid was alone? I can’t square what I read with the burden of proof stuff I learned in middle school.

  9. Tom Kay

    How about the word “hypocrite” for Dana. As a lawyer she has advocated for child welfare. But when it comes to her own child, she ignores that duty. She should face a hearing before a judge for her actions. The same as she has demanded of others.

    1. David

      If she’s attacked any other parent, whether as prosecutor or advocate, for doing what she did here, then she would certainly be a hypocrite, not because what she did here is dangerous, but because she attacked others for what she did here. But you’ve offered nothing to show that’s the case.

  10. Jake

    “As strongly as some will believe this was dangerous, it was very much the norm for generations, and no mother thought twice about it.”

    It was also very much the norm for my mother to drive around for hours smoking cigarettes and singing along to Bruce Springsteen. At the same time, my brother and I bounced around the back seat of a vehicle built to 70’s vehicle safety standards with no seat belts on. A lot of kids used to die that way. Much less of them do now.

    Anyways, in this case, child endangerment seems like a blunt force tool in a domain where no lesser and more specific law would be more suitably applied. Per usual, and despite knowledge of how unpopular this suggestion is around SJ, it is my opinion that we need better and more precise tools for LEO and prosecutors.

    On a side note: I don’t know of any neighborhood in Philly where I would leave a kid unattended, regardless of the temperature.

    1. F. Lee Billy

      How about Rittenhouse Square? Huh, huh! Philly is a great city, harumpf and ahem! It’s the city of sisterly 💘, aka PhilthyDelphia, home of the Liberthy Bell and a few other historical and cultural attractionsl. Ha. The meter maids are busy like bees. They got great restaurants and strip clubs: Piccadilly Club: Closed by order of the Pennsylvania Liqour Control Board for Criminal Violations. True dat!

      Only 400 murders per annum. Cops are so busy, they don’t have time for sleeping kids in abandoned cars!

      Whoopee, now one hundred poor, beautiful minority women looking for work. Fast forward: Just imagine a lap 💃 where your favorite gal is wearing not one but two face masks?!? Ahem. My, how times have changed.

      Things were always better in the good ol’ dayz, but Philly has been nuts for as long as we can remember. A prime location for Corona virus epidemics. Ever hear the expression, “Philadelphia lawyer”? Well, I have!

  11. Fran

    I’m sorry but I call into question the judgement and competency of anyone who INTENTIONALLY engages in this behavior. This was not an accident.

    What if a predator came upon the child? What if the child woke up before she got back (police allege she was absent for at least over 30mins)? What if a bystander sees the child and calls the police (which I believe is exactly what happened here). How are you going to explain yourself? I don’t care what people used to do 50 years ago. A lot of things used to be. It’s way too risky. It’s really that simple.

    1. SHG Post author

      Some people believe children must be bubble-wrapped. Some people don’t. The ones who do are certain they alone know what’s best for kids because they passionately believe in their litany of horribles. It’s really that simple.

      1. BoomerParent

        I don’t believe kids should be bubble wrapped. Mine took public transit to school alone starting in fourth grade. I left her home alone for up to an hour from age 6.

        But this car situation bothers me in many ways. The child was sleeping and may well have woken up not knowing where she was and been frightened. She may have tried to leave the car as a result and gotten lost.

        I also grew up in the days when child raising practices were very different but my parents never left a four year old alone in a car to go for a 30 minute walk, whether the kid was awake or asleep.

        This was an unsafe thing to do. I think the mother needs to reflect on why she did such a thing.

        1. SHG Post author

          There’s some sort of inexplicable disconnect between “I think this is a bad thing to do,” which is fine, and “This should be a felony.” No one questions your right to feel it’s unsafe or your right to raise children any damn way you please. But should a person be arrested and charged with a felony because they don’t share your sensibility? This just isn’t that hard to follow.

          1. Boomer Parent

            There’s no disconnect. I didn’t say this should be a felony. I was responding to the sentiments expressed by many of those commenting that leaving the child alone In this situation was a perfectly acceptable thing to do.

            I don’t think it was acceptable and I don’t think it should be a felony. I do think someone needs to talk to Dana Bazelon about why she thought this was ok.

            1. SHG Post author

              Or maybe those people who don’t see this as a problem need to have a talk to you. That’s the disconnect. What makes you right about a matter of personal choice and everyone who isn’t you wrong? You are not the ruler of the universe. Your narcissism is stunning.

            2. BoomerParent

              We have laws and regulations about child care standards because community standards exist.

              It’s not narcissistic to give one’s opinion on child care on a blog post about child care and attitudes about what’s safe, etc.

              You’ve studiously avoided saying whether you personally think saying what Dana Bazelon did was ok as if the topic is off limits and the only aspect of it that’s permissible to discuss is whether what she did should be a felony.

              Having an opinion about something doesn’t mean you automatically expect everyone else to conform to your point of view. It can simply mean you’re putting your point of view out there for others to consider.

            3. Skink

              “You’ve studiously avoided saying whether you personally think saying what Dana Bazelon did was ok as if the topic is off limits and the only aspect of it that’s permissible to discuss is whether what she did should be a felony.”

              You seem to sorta get it. The “aspect” is the issue. It’s an issue because this is a place where lawyers and judges discuss law. It’s not a place where the discussion veers to whatever you want. It’s not a place where the discussion flips out to generalities of human life. It’s not a place where we discuss parenting. We also don’t discuss diets, the loneliness of hermits, Henry IV or harmful lizards. We do law.

      2. Fran

        I see your point. And it would be valid if it wasn’t common knowledge that this behavior, if caught, will result in arrest/criminal charges. A few times a year you see this exact same fact pattern in the news. It often happens in casino parking lots across the country. Every time the story ends with the parent arrested/charged. She (Bazelon-a criminal attorney) had to know this was a possible outcome, thus I question her judgement. If she didn’t know, I question her competence.

        BTW–several news articles assert that the police freed the child from the car, then Bazelon returned over 30mins after the child was freed from the car. So there’s no way she had eyes on the car the entire time.

        1. SHG Post author

          Fran, it happens 10,000 times per year. You only hear about it a few times because something terrible happened. The rest of the time, nothing bad happens and should a cop become involved, the worst that comes of it is a stern lecture.

    2. KP

      “It’s way too risky.”
      Rubbish! If things were so dangerous a generation ago how come we have so many people still alive? There’s no shortage of people on the planet and we’re all going to die one way or another. Society would be better if no-one could demand another person bring their children up in a particular way, especially a Govt.

      1. SHG Post author

        The issue isn’t whether Fran feels it’s too risky. She’s allowed, and if that’s how she feels, she should conduct herself accordingly. The problem is the Frans of the world want to tell everyone else to conduct themselves based on her feelings of risk, and they don’t appear capable of realizing that other people’s choices are no less legitimate than theirs.

  12. MM

    It’s right near the Park. Unpopulated, sheltered, and very quiet, particularly at that time of day. Not a dangerous neighborhood. if the doors are locked and she has an app that tells her if the car doors open, or a sound is made, it’s no catastrophe. My original thought was that the cops are behind this since they all hate Krasner. I just don’t see Shapiro as going for the felony, that was surprising. I hope she beats this rap — it was only arguably dumb, but not criminal.

    1. Jefferson

      That’s an interesting comment because the District Attorney’s Office ROUTINELY argues that all of Philadelphia is a “high crime area.” That essentially there is no area of the city that is not full of crime. Moreover, let’s take your comment further. It would be ok for her to leave her child in a car unattended because the area is “safe.” Meaning that (usually white) affluent mothers in one neighborhood can engage in certain behaviors. But poor (usually minority) mothers in an “unsafe” area could engage in the exact same behavior and could be arrested. That’s problematic.

      1. SHG Post author

        Facts are often “problematic.” But if they’re facts, then they’re facts. Problematic doesn’t make facts go away.

  13. stacy v williams

    If she is a policy advisor for the district attorney she should have known better. Why not wake up the sleeping child.

    1. Kay

      Was the sleeping child traumatized by sleeping in a car for 30 minutes? Speaking as a mother; I can think of many reasons to leave a sleeping child alone in a car on a cool day. Is it optimal? No, but maybe Mom weighed the “risks” (parents do that every day) and thought sleep was better than a cranky 4 year old.

      OTOH, when big policeman shows up and arrests Mom, I can think of many ways this innocent child may now have PTSD around big mean policemen.

  14. Rengit

    This may be another intranecine Pennsylvania Democratic dispute between Harrisburg area Dems and Philadelphia machine Dems. We saw this play out 4 to 5 years ago in the series of events that culminated in Kathleen Kane going to prison, bringing down the political and legal careers of several other prominent PA professionals along the way.

  15. Syme

    There were multiple incidents in/around Silver Spring MD a few years back. Alexander and Danielle Meitiv {gasp!} let their 10 & 6 yo’s walk home from school together. Repeatedly the Montgomery County cops swooped in & “saved” the poor children from the evil stepmother ^H^H^H^H parents.

    There was a civil suit planned; I’ve not heard it its outcome.

    1. SHG Post author

      Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids has made a business out of these scolds and cops substituting their hysterical fears and notions of risk for the parents of children doing things that were utterly ordinary. There’s not much to be gained in a civil suit (no damages), but the hysterical scolds, as reflected here, can’t distinguish between their personal fears and reality, and demand that their hysteria be imposed on others.

  16. Harry I. Price

    SHG is a poster child for why the public views the criminal justice system with distrust – helping/lobbying insiders to get favorable treatment not available to the general public. Are there 2 sides to any story? Perhaps, except when it comes to child endangerment. Those are times when a bright line (as opposed to a balancing test) is needed, so that we remove subjectivity from enforcement leading to the consistent application of law. SHG is trying to dim that bright line – without cause or justification. When the mother is convicted and sentenced, it’s a given that SHG will argue that any sentence is too harsh. In fact, since before the publication of “Bonfire of the Vanities” was published, it remains more important than ever, in this era of blogs and internet echo chambers, to punish those in charge of administering the law harshly…because they are deemed to know the law and have sworn a duty to uphold the law.

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