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Child Abuse & Related Charges

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An experienced West Palm Beach child abuse attorney can make all the difference in the world when it comes to your final sentence – potentially life-changing. A few of the most common charges that fall in the child abuse category are detailed below.

Child Abuse Crime DEFINITIONS: F.S. 39.01 (1), (2), (44)

Florida law defines child abandonment as “a situation in which the parent or legal custodian of a child or, in the absence of a parent or legal custodian, the caregiver while being able, has made no significant contribution to the child’s care and maintenance or has failed to establish or maintain a substantial and positive relationship with the child, or both.”

Essentially, the words “establish or maintain a substantial and positive relationship” include, but are not limited to, routine contact with the child through frequent visitation and communications while observing parental responsibilities. As a result, infrequent visitation, or halfhearted attempts at communication, might subject a person to charges of child abandonment.

Child Abuse Crime Definitions – F.S. 39.01 (1), (2), (44)
Child Abuse Crime Definitions – F.S. 39.01 (1), (2), (44)

Florida law defines child abuse as “any willful act or threatened act that results in any physical, mental, or sexual abuse, injury, or harm that causes or is likely to cause the child’s physical, mental, or emotional health to be significantly impaired. Abuse of a child includes acts or omissions. Corporal discipline of a child by a parent or legal custodian for disciplinary purposes does not constitute abuse when it does not result in harm to the child.”

Florida law defines child neglect as “when a child is deprived of, or is allowed to be deprived of, necessary food, clothing, shelter, or medical treatment, and is permitted to live in an unhealthy environment that potentially endangers the child’s physical, mental, or emotional health.”

When determining whether a parent or legal guardian should be charged with child neglect, the State must consider whether a child’s primary caregiver is financially incapable of providing (and so innocent of willfully failing to provide) proper support for the child. However, if the parent or guardian has refused services to aid the situation, the latter defense may be lost. In addition, certain legitimate religions may include beliefs prohibiting certain medical practices and treatments.

Withholding specific medical treatment from a child in accordance with the parent’s or legal guardian’s religious beliefs may be protected by the First Amendment. However, if a child’s life is in danger, the court may, in some cases, issue an order requiring the parent to provide the necessary medical care for the child.

Child Abuse Classifications – ABUSE, AGGRAVATED ABUSE, AND NEGLECT: F.S. 827.03(1)

Florida law defines and classifies child abuse according to different levels. “Aggravated” child abuse, the most severe level, occurs when an adult, with intent, physically injures or uses a deadly weapon against a child. Florida law identifies another form of child abuse as “neglect of a child.” Such neglect occurs when (1) an adult fails to provide necessities for a child, (2) an adult fails to protect a child from the abuse of another adult, or (3) an adult neglect to provide the appropriate care to protect a child from physical harm.

Child Abuse, Abuse, Aggravated Abuse, And Neglect – F.S. 827.03(1)
Child Abuse, Abuse, Aggravated Abuse, And Neglect – F.S. 827.03(1)

What are some defenses to the varying charges of Child Abuse?

People charged with child abuse are not guilty in many cases. An injury incurred by a child may have been caused by accident, in a fight with another child, or as the result of a pre-existing medical condition. In addition, when a marriage is dissolving, or already broken, an estranged spouse may level charges of child abuse against the other out of vindictiveness or in anticipation of a battle over child custody. (Defenses are discussed in greater detail below.)

What are the penalties for Child Abuse charges?

Florida law sets the penalties for child abuse according to several factors: (1) the age of the victim, (2) the severity of the abuse, and (3) the criminal history of the accused. Child abuse and child neglect are both third-degree felonies, punishable by penalties ranging from probation to up to five years in state prison.

However, suppose the State alleges that the abuse of a child was intentional, willful, and resulted in great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement. In that case, the crime is classified as aggravated child abuse under Florida law. Aggravated child abuse is a first-degree felony, punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

If the State alleges that the neglect of a child was (1) willful or by culpable negligence and (2) caused great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disability, Florida law classifies the crime as child neglect causing permanent harm, a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in state prison.

Tell me more about defenses to child abuse and child neglect.

In its zeal to protect the welfare of children, the State sometimes brings charges of child abuse or child neglect against a person in error. For instance, a bystander may call the police after witnessing a parent spank a child. But Florida law does not criminalize appropriate disciplinary action by parents and lawful caregivers.

When defending a person accused of child abuse, key questions a competent child abuse attorney should ask include: What is the specific nature of the injury? Was it possibly caused by factors other than the abuse or neglect alleged by the State? If the injury was caused by the person accused, was it the person’s intention to inflict such harm? Or did the injury occur unintentionally? Finally, when the abuse is alleged to have taken place, was the accused in the act of disciplining their child?

Police sometimes arrest a parent for child neglect when a child is left alone in a car, a child is found alone outside the home, or the child’s home is considered excessively unclean. Depending on the facts of the case, none of these scenarios may justify criminal charges of child neglect. People, like cultures, may conceptualize proper parenting differently. Not all parents raise their children in the same manner. A parent who is otherwise caring and loving cannot be justly accused of neglect simply because someone who wears a uniform, or works for the State, does not approve of their actions.

Both child abuse and child neglect are “fact-specific” charges. That means a careful analysis of the allegations is essential to determining whether the charge is valid. Some of these cases can be won early in the legal process by filing a motion to dismiss. As stated above, I have defended many people wrongfully accused of both child abuse and child neglect charges in Florida.

Should I hire a West Palm Beach child abuse attorney for Child Neglect Causing Harm: F.S. 827.03(2)(b)?

Florida Statutes identifies and describes a crime called “Child Neglect Causing Harm.” According to Florida law, this crime occurs when “a caregiver’s failure or omission to provide a child with the care, supervision, and services necessary to maintain the child’s physical and mental health, including, but not limited to, food, nutrition, clothing, shelter, supervision, medicine, and medical services that a prudent person would consider essential for the well-being of the child, or a caregiver’s failure to make a reasonable effort to protect a child from abuse, neglect, or exploitation by another person… causes great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement to the child.”

The law in Florida defines “great” bodily harm by distinguishing it from “slight, trivial, minor, or moderate harm, and as

Child Neglect Causing Harm, F.S. 827.03(2)(B)
Child Neglect Causing Harm, F.S. 827.03(2)(B)

such does not include mere bruises as are likely to be inflicted in a simple assault or batter.” An injury that results in scarring or broken bones can, and probably will be, considered great bodily harm. It is the State’s burden to prove to a jury, beyond all reasonable doubt, that an injury suffered by a child constitutes great bodily harm.

What is the penalty for child neglect?

Aggravated child neglect is a second-degree felony punishable by penalties ranging from probation up to 15 years in prison. Absent legally extenuating circumstances, the judge must sentence a first-time offender to at least a year and a half in state prison.

I am sorry, but I never meant to harm my child. Why was I arrested for child neglect causing harm?

The police are overly sensitive to cases involving children. For instance, it is common to read about parents of malnourished children being arrested and charged with this offense. Sometimes undernourishment can result from poverty, the child’s poor eating habits, or even dietary restrictions. This is just one example of the State intervening in cases where it shouldn’t.

What is Aggravated Child Abuse: F.S. 827.03(2),(3) in Palm Beach County?

According to Florida law, Aggravated Child Abuse occurs when a person commits “aggravated battery on a child, willfully tortures, maliciously punishes or unlawfully cages a child, or knowingly/willfully abuses a child and causes great bodily harm, permanent disability or permanent disfigurement.”

In other words, a person will be convicted of aggravated child abuse when the State proves, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the person intentionally, and without the victim’s consent, struck a child with a deadly weapon or intentionally caused the child great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement.

The law in Florida distinguishes “great bodily harm” from “slight, trivial, minor, or moderate harm.” It thus does not include mere bruises inflicted in a simple assault or battery.” The law considers any injury that results in scarring, or broken bones, to be great bodily harm. The State must convince a jury, beyond a reasonable doubt, that an injury constitutes “great bodily harm.”

What is the penalty for aggravated child abuse?

Aggravated child abuse is a first-degree felony punishable by penalties of up to thirty years in prison. For sentencing, Florida law classifies crimes on a scale of 1 to 10, with ten being the most serious. Child Abuse is a level-nine (9) offense, which means that a first-time offender convicted of child abuse must serve at least 48 months (four years) in prison.

Am I allowed to spank my child if they do something wrong?

Yes. Florida law does not prohibit a parent or lawful caregiver from imposing discipline on a child, even with an object like a belt or paddle. The question becomes whether the discipline imposed was too severe or whether the injuries consequently suffered by the child were too significant. While it is unlikely the State will prosecute a parent for bruising on a child’s buttocks, the infliction of scarring or broken bones is, without question, criminal under Florida law.

Aggravated Child Abuse, F.S. 827.03(2), (3)
Aggravated Child Abuse, F.S. 827.03(2), (3)

Will I go to prison with a charge of Aggravated Child Abuse?

As a severe crime, aggravated child abuse in Florida is punished severely. While each case is different, Florida law requires judges to sentence a person convicted of aggravated child abuse to a substantial number of years in prison.

Sometimes some factors allow the judge, only if they wish to do so, to “depart” from the required sentence. Still, these special justifying circumstances must be proven to the judge by legally acceptable evidence.

Three such factors are: (1) the crime was an isolated incident; (2) the defendant committed the crime in an unsophisticated manner; and (3) the defendant, after conviction, expresses remorse for their actions.

The injury was an innocent accident. I would never hurt my child! Why did the police arrest me for aggravated child abuse?

For a person to be convicted of aggravated child abuse, the State must prove the defendant’s State of mind, specifically that the person accused “knowingly” or “willfully” inflicted significant harm on the victim child. A defendant’s State of mind, because it cannot be seen, is an element of a crime that a skilled child abuse attorney will force the State to prove. For child abuse and aggravated child abuse, the State does not have to show a knowing or willful State of mind.

What is False Imprisonment: F.S. 787.02?

Florida law defines the crime of false imprisonment as “forcibly, by threat, or secretly confining, abducting, imprisoning, or restraining another person without lawful authority and against her or his will.”

According to Florida statutes, children under the age of 13 held without the consent of their parents or guardians are considered to be imprisoned “against their will.”

What are the penalties for false imprisonment?

False Imprisonment, F.S. 787.02
False Imprisonment, F.S. 787.02
  • False imprisonment, as a third-degree felony, is punishable by penalties ranging from a term of probation up to 5 years in state prison.
  • False imprisonment becomes a first-degree felony, punishable by up to 30 years in prison if the crime is committed on some child 13 years of age or younger and in conjunction with any of the following: aggravated child abuse, sexual battery, lewd or lascivious battery, or any crimes related to human trafficking or prostitution.

What are the defenses for false imprisonment?

The State must prove each element of the offense to a jury so that all its members are convinced beyond a reasonable doubt. Hence, the State’s failure to prove the defendant (1) acted forcibly, secretly, or by threat; and (2) abducted, confined, imprisoned, or restrained another without lawful authority must mean the defendant’s acquittal. The State’s failure to do so means the defendant must be found “not guilty.”

In addition, when collecting evidence, the State is prohibited from violating the requirements of the Constitution. When the State does so, the defendant, through his lawyer, can ask the judge to exclude the tainted evidence from the case. The exclusion or “suppression” of the State’s evidence often results in a favorable outcome for the accused. The State drops the case or offers a highly desirable plea to resolve the matter.

What is Child Abuse – FAILURE TO REPORT PENALTIES: F.S. 39.205(1)(2)?

Florida law requires any person who knows or suspects that child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect is taking place to report the information to the authorities. Florida law also defines it as a crime of knowingly and willfully preventing another person from reporting child abuse, neglect, or abandonment. Law requires any adult living in the same house as the victim child to report such crimes. The legal definition of “neglect of a child” includes affirmative acts and omissions.

For example, under Section 39.205, Florida law punishes the failure to report child neglect and abandonment.

Child Abuse – Hiring a West Palm Beach Child Abuse Attorney for Failure To Report Penalties F.S. 39.205(1)(2)
Child Abuse – Failure To Report Penalties F.S. 39.205(1)(2)

Failure to report child abuse, neglect, or abandonment is a third-degree felony punishable by penalties ranging from a term of probation up to 5 years in state prison.

In determining whether to prosecute someone for one or more of these crimes, the State does not differentiate between the type of abuse or the significance of the injuries suffered by the child.

I was a victim of abuse by my husband. Does that matter?

A possible defense used by a seasoned child abuse attorney to the charge of failure to report child abuse, neglect, or abandonment is that the defendant herself was a victim of domestic violence. Moreover, the law recognizes that additional mitigating factors apart from physical abuse can be considered a defense to this charge.

Arrested? Call West Palm Beach Child Abuse Attorney Joshua LeRoy because experience wins. Can you afford to lose?

If you, or someone you know, needs a Child Abuse Attorney in West Palm Beach (Palm Beach County from Boca Raton, Boynton Beach to Delray Beach, Lake Worth, and up to Jupiter) or any of the surrounding areas, use the form below to drop me a note.

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-Joshua LeRoy, Esq.

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