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No fine for mother who left child in car

The woman who locked her 5-year-old daughter in her car because she didn't trust babysitters has pleaded guilty to a reduced charge. Chante Fernandez, 24, admitted it was wrong to leave her daughter in the car while she worked weekends at a shopping mall, but said she felt she had no other choice.

"I was only trying to get us out of the situation we were in," Fernandez told the judge Friday. "I hope somehow you can understand."

She pleaded guilty to a disorderly persons offense, was given a $100 suspended fine. She had faced a maximum of 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.

Fernandez, from Elizabeth, was arrested Saturday after police found her daughter Anjuli in her mother's 1987 Toyota Celica at the Woodbridge Center Mall, where Fernandez worked part time on weekends.

On Tuesday, the state will hold a hearing to decide

whether to reunite mother and daughter. Anjuli has been in state custody since Saturday.

Fernandez was initially charged with criminal restraint and spent two days in jail before posting $5,000 bail.

The prosecutor's review of the case led him to believe Anjuli was not neglected.

"She has lost her child in the last several days, she has been in the trepidation of feeling she was destitute without a job," prosecutor Alan Rockoff said. "I think that's punishment enough."

After her arrest, Fernandez was fired from a full-time job at an Elizabeth company, but the company has since offered to rehire her. Her former employer at the shopping mall also has offered to make her position full time.

Fernandez said she left her daughter in the car while she worked at the shopping mall because she could not find a babysitter she trusted. She also said she could not get government child-care services.

She said she checked on her daughter during work breaks and left the rear seat folded down so Anjuli could sleep in the trunk.

The mother's lawyer, Kenneth Weimer, said Fernandez was desperate and did what she did "out of love for her child."

"My client made a bad judgment call," he said. "She was up against the wall."