I CAN'T GET THE VIDEO TO POST . Tanesha gave a candid interview on CNN today . Please check it out .
When justice is 'merciful' in child abuse cases
By Emanuella Grinberg, CNN
updated 1:33 PM EDT, Thu August 7, 2014
Watch this video
A mother's 'desperate' choice
Arizona mother Shanesha Taylor left her children alone in a car during a job interview
She was arrested and charged with two counts of felony child abuse
Maricopa County Attorney agreed to drop charges pending completion of parenting classes
Legal experts say the outcome highlights fluid line between bad parenting, criminal behavior
(CNN) -- Shanesha Taylor walked out of a job interview on March 20 at a Scottsdale, Arizona, insurance company feeling like her luck was about to change.
After months of fruitless job searching and moving her three children from one home to another, she was optimistic that she had found not just a job, but a career that would ground her family. The interview went well, lasting longer than expected. The 35-year-old single mother felt like she had the job "in the bag."
All that changed in an instant as she walked out to the parking lot and saw police around her Dodge Durango, where she had left her two sons during her hourlong job interview. A woman on her lunch break had called 911 after hearing a child crying in the hot car.
"I felt lost at that moment, like everything I had built myself up for, everything I was trying to do, had fallen apart," she said. "It went from how am I going to provide for my family to what's going to happen to my family?"
She was arrested on the spot and held in jail for 10 days on two counts of felony child abuse, losing custody of her three children. Her tear-stained face in a mugshot struck a chord among sympathizers nationwide, who thought the actions against her were unjustified given the circumstances.
Supporters coalesced on social media, starting a fundraising campaign to cover her $9,000 bail. It raised more than $110,000 over two months. An online petition asking Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery to dismiss the charges drew more than 58,000 signatures. At one point #isupportshanesha was a trending topic on Twitter.
To many she represented the plight of single and underemployed parents who face tough decisions each day related to child care. Others saw it as evidence that the criminal justice system metes out harsher penalties to African-Americans than other racial groups.
"There's a racial component in this case that can't be ignored," said social justice activist Mariame Kaba, who started the online petition. She also contributed to efforts to keep the case in the public eye through social media and her blog, Prison Culture.
Montgomery said he was unmoved by the public outcry. But further discussion with Taylor's lawyer led to an outcome with which both sides say they are satisfied.
Montgomery agreed to dismiss child abuse charges against Taylor if she successfully completes 25 hours of parenting classes and establishes education and child care trust fund accounts for her children. She also has to complete a substance abuse treatment program -- a standard provision in these types of cases to ensure the children's safety, a county attorney spokesperson said -- even though she has no drug-related criminal record.
Taylor agreed to the conditional plea deal in a July 24 hearing and began her parenting classes in August. The trust funds will be established through donations from the public.
"I realize I made a mistake, but I'm grateful that they took a look at my situation and what I was intending to do that day," Taylor said.
Taylor's lawyer, Benjamin Taylor II (no relation), said the resolution shows that "justice can be merciful." Legal analysts and activists say the tentative resolution of Taylor's case highlights the fluid line between bad parenting and criminal behavior in a moment when several cases involving child welfare are making headlines.
A 'desperate' moment
Taylor said she left her children, ages 6 months and 2 years, in the car "in desperation" after her child care arrangement fell through the morning of the interview. With less than two hours to spare, she found herself faced with two bad options.
"Do you pass up the interview that you know is going to save your family? Do you pass up the interview you know is going to give you a future?" she said. "It's a desperate moment where you decide do I provide for my children? Do I provide home, shelter, food, necessities? Or, do I stay here and do I care for the children?"
"The truth is that too many parents are finding themselves having to make a desperate choice between providing for their children and caring for their children. Unless you've been put in that situation, I don't think you're entitled to judge."
Hsanesha Taylor says she left her children in her car in a 'desperate' moment
"That's the way we do it," Guggenheim said. "What we ought to really be interested in is if this is a mother whom we can trust to raise children well. In this case the answer is unquestionably yes."
Montgomery said his office had an obligation to investigate due to the circumstances under which police were called to the scene. Someone parked near Taylor's vehicle called 911 to report a crying child inside the car, according to a police report. Responding officers found the front door unlocked, the windows rolled down about an inch, and keys in the ignition. Taylor's two sons were "sweating profusely" in the backseat and the 6-month-old was "crying hysterically." The children were taken to the hospital and later reported to have "no medical issues."
When further investigation revealed the situation "was the exception and not the rule" for how Taylor cared for her children, "we were able to look at this as a unique circumstance" and consider a wide range of alternatives to resolve the case, Montgomery said.
"It's always our concern in these types of cases to address underlying circumstances to see the risk going forward."
Taylor's lack of a criminal record or contact with law enforcement related to her children weighed heavily in her favor, he said, along with circumstances showing she was trying to find a job. Knowing that a felony record would seriously hinder her job prospects, Montgomery said he was inclined to give her an opportunity to prove she is a responsible parent.
"I have every expectation that she's going to be successful," Montgomery said of the conditional plea deal.
"We have enough violent and repeat offenders to keep us busy. If we can identify those who do not pose an ongoing threat to the community we're more than happy to give them the opportunity to demonstrate that and move on."
He resists the characterization of the agreement as lenient, and rejects allegations that race played a role in the case.
Edited by india100 - Aug 07 2014 at 7:12pm