SALT LAKE CITY — The New York father whose twins died after he left them in a hot car "is struggling to come to terms with the horrific nature of this crime," his attorney has said.

But it's a crime for which Juan Rodriguez may not be punished by the courts.

Prosecutors said Thursday that they have not yet sought an indictment from a grand jury for the July 26 deaths of 1-year-old twins who died of heat stroke after being left in a car for eight hours.

Rodriguez was initially charged with two counts of manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and endangering the welfare of a child.

But analysts say the district attorney's delay in presenting evidence to a grand jury suggests that the charges may be reduced or dropped. That's often the case when prosecutors believe that parents genuinely forgot about their children and are clearly devastated by the deaths, The New York Times reported.

According to KidsandCars.org, which tracks children's deaths associated with automobiles, 43 percent of caregivers who unintentionally left children in hot cars did not face charges, and 11 percent were charged but not convicted. But the organization's director told Times reporter Sharon Otterman, "All in all, there is no rhyme or reason to how these cases are treated."

While such cases are shocking and bewildering, some psychologists say there are neurological explanations for how a parent could forget a child in the back of a car, particularly if the parent is tired and stressed, and some prosecutors say it's hard to convict someone for a memory lapse.

Charges are less likely to be dropped if a parent deliberately left a child in a car, as happened in the death of a 4-year-old in St. Paul, Minnesota, earlier this year.

With such deaths occurring, on average, every 10 days, some people are urging the passage of a law that would require to vehicle manufacturers to have a warning system that alerts drivers if a child is in the back of a car after the ignition is turned off. But even that wouldn't have prevented the death of a 3-year-old whose mother, a Mississippi police officer, left her in the car while she had sex with a supervisor and then fell asleep.

She was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Here's why some people believe Juan Rodriguez won't be, even though two children died because of his action.

Sobering numbers

According to KidsandCars.org, more children died in hot cars in the U.S. in 2018 than any other year on record.

So far in 2019, the organization has identified 25 hot-car deaths across the U.S., with children ranging in age from 4 months to 4 years. Two more, one in Florida and one in Texas, occurred within a week of the twins' death.

Some of the deaths involve older children (including an 11-year-old with disabilities), but most were infants and toddlers strapped in car seats. Since 1998, more than 800 children have died from heatstroke suffered inside a vehicle, and any parent could experience this tragedy, Consumer Reports says, noting that caregivers in previous cases have included teachers, dentists, social workers, law enforcement, nurses, clergymen, military officers and a rocket scientist.

That's because the issue is not negligence, but memory, wrote Emily A. Thomas, a specialist in pediatric injury and a child-passenger safety technician.

Thomas interviewed David Diamond, a professor of psychology at the University of South Florida who has studied hot-car deaths. He explained that our memory allows us to do familiar things on autopilot, without conscious thought. Normally, this works well.

But when we're weary or stressed, we're more likely to succumb to this type of automatic processing, which Diamond has compared to the primitive brain structure of lizards, and we may lose the clarity supplied by the parts of the brain that are responsible for analysis, planning and critical thought.

When this happens, otherwise capable people can forget things with catastrophic results. Other examples, Thomas wrote, are the skilled surgeon who leaves a tool inside a patient or a veteran pilot who fails to properly prepare a plane for landing.

“We have to accept the fact that our brain multitasks. And as a part of that multitasking, the awareness of a child can be lost,” Diamond said in Consumer Reports. “We have to accept that the human memory is flawed. That includes when loving, attentive parents lose awareness of their children when they are in a car.”

That "lapse of awareness" was one reason that a mother in Hurricane, Utah, was not prosecuted after her 11-month old daughter died in a hot car in 2014. That baby died on a Friday, as did the New York twins. Thursday and Friday are the most common days for such deaths to happen, and July is the most common month, according to Jan Null, a meteorologist at San Jose State University, who researches children's deaths from heatstroke and reports findings on the website Noheatstroke.org.

In the latest case, Rodriguez, a social worker and veteran, dropped his 4-year-old son off at day care and then went to to his job at a veterans' hospital, leaving the twins sleeping in the back of the car. He told police that he believed he had dropped the babies off, too, and did not notice that they were in the car until he started to drive home after an eight-hour shift. "I blanked out," he told authorities, according to court filings.

In the days after his children's deaths, Rodriguez talked with Diamond to try to understand how he could have forgotten the twins, The New York Times reported. "He thought he was the only person who had ever done this," Diamond said.

What happens now

Rodriguez could yet go to trial; he is due back in court on Aug. 27 and has waived his right to a speedy trial, the Times reported. After the Aug. 1 hearing, his attorney called on prosecutors to “do what we believe is the right thing, and that is, to dismiss these charges.” The district attorney for the Bronx is saying only that the matter remains under investigation.

The father's attorney, Joey Jackson, said that his client is beset by "misery and sorry," and Rodriguez's wife, who lay her head on his shoulder outside the courtroom, is supporting her husband.

So are many people in the public.

A fundraiser established on GoFundMe for the family, is just a thousand dollars shy of its $100,000 goal. The fundraiser says that Rodriguez suffered "Forgotten Baby Syndrome" and asked for financial help for the family to pay for funeral expenses, legal expenses and lost wages.

But others have said that, as tragic as the case may be, the father should be held accountable. When a New York TV station asked its Twitter followers if Rodriguez should go to jail, one person replied, "Two infants died. Stupid question."

In Otterman's reporting for The New York Times, she found that similar cases in years past have had disparate outcomes. Some parents are never charged; others are charged with involuntary manslaughter, which is a felony; others with child endangerment, a misdemeanor.

To win a case, prosecutors have to prove that the caregiver meant to harm the child or at least knew that they were putting them in danger. The caregiver's response to learning about the death may also figure into the decision. Otterman cited a Ohio case from 2017 in which a mother was not charged, in part, because the prosecutor saw video from a security camera that showed her reaction when she realized she had not taken the child to day care.

And she interviewed a district attorney in New York who declined to prosecute a police offer who left an infant in a hot car. "Just because you do something wrong doesn't make it a crime," Oneida County district attorney Scott McNamara said.

"After everything was done, and everyone was interviewed, we came to the conclusion that he just forgot, and I don't think the law punishes forgetting."