SANTA FE (KRQE) - The death of an Albuquerque toddler left in a hot car for hours sparked debate at the Roundhouse after some lawmakers questioned the fairness of the law that allowed charges against the boy's aunt to be filed.
On Wednesday, the Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee delved into the state's child abuse law. They cited cases that were very similar but had different endings for the adults accused for the child's death.
The case that sparked the decision has led to an indictment for Sandra Rodriguez Miramontes. Police charged her for the death of her nephew after detectives said she left the 2-year-old in a hot car for hours outside the day care where she works.
She claims she thought she'd brought the toddler inside with her.
A similar case is still pending. Stephanie Piñon is accused of leaving her 2-year-old daughter in a sweltering minivan outside a day care for hours while she was inside for an appointment two years ago.
The girl died, but Piñon still hasn't been indicted.
Lawmakers questioned when do situations like these constitute a crime and who's going to make the decision to make sure suspects are treated equally.
"The question for us is, are you guys going to make that decision based on some policy, dialog and community input," Rep. Moe Maestas, D-Albuquerque said.
Maestas then asked the district attorney invited to the hearing if lawmakers will have to be the ones to clarify the law to determine what's a crime and what's not.
Maestas, who's also a defense attorney, told the panel of lawmakers it's clear the law used to prosecute these cases is "incredibly broad."
"It's 30-1-6," he said citing the statute number. "It's placing a child in a situation that may endanger the life or health of a child."
Elenenth Judicial District Attorney Robert "Rick" Tedrow of Farmington agreed that the writing in the law is vague.
"If I take the most liberal reading of the statute as it was written, you're absolutely right. We have that word 'may' in here," Tedrow said.
Tedrow added that's why some cases have had to go as high as the Supreme Court to determine if charges should stick.
"The grey area here is the determination of the facts on the risks," Tedrow said.
In cases where the kids are OK, Tedrow said it's then up to police officers to use their judgment to decide if there should be charges.
Maestas doesn't think people should be charged for leaving a child a car unless they meant to for the adults' own selfish intentions.
No decisions were made Wednesday, but some lawmakers said it's something that should be brought up during the legislative session starting in January.
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