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Criminal Child Abuse

Key Takeaways:

  • Criminal child abuse can include physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, and child neglect.
  • Criminal penalties for child abuse can include prison time and loss of parenting rights.
  • Some professionals are mandatory reporters, who are required to report suspected abuse to law enforcement.

Criminal child abuse covers a wide range of injuries or harmful conduct inflicted upon a child. Every state has its definition of criminal child abuse and what behavior makes up criminal conduct. As a misdemeanor or a felony, these are serious criminal charges. A conviction can lead to jail time, a criminal record, and losing child custody.

Facing a child abuse accusation is a frightening, stressful, and emotional experience. It is important to familiarize yourself with your legal options to protect yourself and your family. It can help to have a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer by your side during this difficult time. For more information about your legal rights, talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Child Abuse as a Criminal Offense

Generally, criminal child abuse occurs when a person assaults or harms a child. This is a broad offense that may involve a wide range of intentional, neglectful, and reckless conduct against a child including:

  • Physical abuse
  • Child sexual abuse
  • Psychological or emotional abuse
  • Exploitation
  • Maltreatment
  • Child abandonment
  • Neglect
  • Endangerment

Some states have expanded their definition of child neglect. Neglect can include withholding food, medical care, or even education. Some states may include child abuse as a criminal offense under their domestic violence laws. Violence against someone else in front of a child may also be child abuse.

Who Can Face Child Abuse Charges?

The child’s parents are not the only people who can face criminal child abuse charges. Other people who may be accused of child abuse or neglect could include:

  • Family members
  • Caretakers
  • Babysitters
  • Daycare providers
  • Foster caregivers
  • Teachers
  • Religious leaders
  • Coaches

When Is Discipline Considered Child Abuse?

The line between what behavior is child abuse and discipline is unclear. Sometimes, an accusation leading to a child abuse charge may come from a parent disciplining their child. Parents often discipline their children in the same way they were disciplined.

Criminal child abuse laws aim to protect children from harm and maltreatment. Some of the types of behavior defined as harm can be controversial. Past approaches to disciplining children, like spanking, threatening, or yelling, may now be criminal under strict state laws.

Sometimes you may feel that the government is interfering with your ability to raise your child. If you feel that you were falsely accused of child abuse, talk to a criminal defense lawyer experienced with child abuse cases.

What Is Mandatory Reporting?

Children are often not the ones who report child abuse. Adults who suspect possible mistreatment report most suspected child abuse cases. Allegations of child abuse are typically reported to state law enforcement or child protective services (CPS). In serious cases involving federal crimes, federal law enforcement agencies may get involved.

Some professionals are subject to mandatory reporting laws, meaning they have to report child abuse if they know or suspect abuse. Mandatory reporters can face penalties if they see signs of abuse and fail to report it immediately to law enforcement.

Mandatory reporters are different in every state. These usually include careers that involve working closely with children, including:

  • Teachers
  • Social workers
  • Doctors and nurses
  • Firefighters
  • Police officers
  • Coaches

Investigating Criminal Child Abuse

After police and child protection services receive a report, there is an investigation to figure out if any criminal conduct occurred. This may start with the police conducting a child welfare check at the child’s home or school to check on their well-being.

During the investigation, the police or CPS look for evidence of criminal behavior or abuse. A social worker or child psychologist may interview the child and others. Law enforcement may remove a child from their home if they feel the home is unsafe. The child may be placed with family or in foster care until the end of the investigation.

If the state believes there is enough evidence, the prosecutor may file child abuse charges. If convicted, then there is a sentencing hearing to deliver the penalties. Sometimes, the prosecutor may offer a plea bargain to negotiate a lesser sentence or avoid burdening the child with going through a trial.

What Are the Penalties for Criminal Child Abuse?

A criminal child abuse conviction can come with serious consequences, including:

  • A loss of child custody rights
  • Prison time
  • Registering as a sex offender
  • Court-ordered mental health counseling
  • Paying civil fines
  • Being subject to restraining orders

Defending Against Child Abuse Charges

Anyone accused of child abuse has the legal right to defend themselves in court. Possible legal defenses include proving:

  • That the physical injuries were an accident
  • A Lack of evidence
  • That someone else abused the child
  • False allegations by a former partner

Other child abuse defenses involve showing you were disciplining your child within your parental rights and state laws.

Navigating a criminal case can be difficult. A criminal law attorney can help guide you and protect your rights. A criminal defense lawyer will advocate on your behalf to make sure you are not alone. A lawyer can also negotiate with the prosecutor to reduce the criminal charges or avoid a criminal record.

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