Child Endangerment Laws, Charges and Statute of Limitations

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Child endangerment is a type of child abuse. These are usually state charges that can be brought against you if you put a child in danger of imminent harm of bodily injury, death, or mental or physical impairment. Child endangerment often is included with assault related charges, but it does not require you to commit an assault or for there to be evidence of an injury.

Elements of Child Endangerment

Child endangerment is treated as a proactive offense. This means it is designed to discourage improper parental conduct that can lead to harm or injury of the child. The first part of a charge for child endangerment is to prove the relationship between the defendant and child. Only if a defendant has accepted responsibility for the care, control and custody of a child can be charged with child endangerment. This can apply to anyone who has assumed the responsibility of care for a child, such as parents, grandparents, teachers, social workers, child care workers and law enforcement. Most states have mandatory reporting requirements in effect for these responsible adults.

Another important component of a child endangerment charge is an act of omission. When most people consider child endangerment charges, they think of a person placing a child in a high risk situation, such as leaving the child in a very hot car. But child endangerment charges also can stem from omission, which are things that the caregiver has failed to do. For instance, if a daycare teacher knew the child had a serious medical problem that required medicine to prevent a seizure, but the defendant would not give the child the drug because she did not want to bother, this intentional failure could bring a child endangerment charge.

Some states have placed presumptions in their child endangerment laws because of the higher risk of drug related offense in the recent past. A presumption is defined as a conclusion that is considered to be correct without a need of additional evidence. If this presumption is shown, the burden is upon the defendant to disprove what has been presumed.

For example, a common presumption under state law is consuming illegal narcotics around a child. If the caregiver takes methamphetamine around a child that he is in charge of, the law presumes the child is in danger without any more proof required by the government. This is important because the child being in imminent danger is the last major component of bringing a child endangerment charge in most jurisdictions.

Unless there is a presumption that can be applied, law enforcement needs to find evidence that a child was in imminent danger for a child endangerment charge to be made. Just the possibility or a hypothetical danger is insufficient. There needs to be evidence that the omission or act was an actual threat to the child.

In the example of the hot car, it is well known that high heat can cause extreme or fatal injuries to a child left in a parking lot unattended in a vehicle. The government bringing the charge may present evidence of temperatures that day, as well as video footage of the car with the child inside. This would prove the danger was imminent and real. On the other hand, if the temperatures were lower and the time the child in the car was very short, the state would have more difficulty to prove the conduct would put the child in danger.

Child Endangerment Punishment

Child endangerment charges generally has two possible sets of consequences. First, you can receive a criminal punishment of six months to 20 years, depending upon the circumstances and the state. Charges also can be a felony or misdemeanor. States can graduate or increase charges depending upon how bad the conduct was. For instance, if the omission you committed could have led to death, the parent would get a more severe punishment.

If you receive probation, the court may provide conditions that are related to the underlying charges, such as counseling, parenting classes, and limited access to the child. Some states have mandatory conditions written into the statute; in California, it is required for parents convicted of child endangerment to take parenting classes.

The next type of consequences relate to your relationship with the child or other children. Even if you are only charged with child endangerment, many states will check if your parental rights should be reduced or even terminated. Some states will focus on reuniting the child with the parent, but this only will occur after the defendant has completed parenting classes and had home visits to ensure the child will be safe in the future.

Below are potential consequences for child endangerment charges in various states:

  • Texas: Under Texas law, child endangerment is defined as an act that exposes a child under 15 to risk of bodily harm, death or physical or mental impairment. The act can be reckless or intentional, or an act of omission. This state can find spanking a child and leaving marks is child endangerment with a fine of $20,000 and two years in jail. The crime also is often charged as a felony and can result in two to 20 years in prison.
  • Florida: This crime is charged in Florida as neglect of a child and is a felony. If there is not great bodily harm, it is a third degree felony with a penalty of up to five years in prison. If harm occurred, it is a second degree felony punishable by 15 years in prison.

Child endangerment also can be charged at the federal level. You will face higher possible punishments than if charged by your state. Typical sentences range from two to 20 years.

  • Illinois: Child endangerment is covered under 720 ILCS 5/12C-5 in this state. It is generally a class A misdemeanor, but it can be charged as a class 3 felony if it is a second offense. Punishment can range from two to 10 years.

Defenses to Child Endangerment Charge

The major line of defense to a child endangerment charge is to attack the proof the prosecution has of imminent danger. This is the most challenged part of these charges in most cases. The definition of imminent danger is often highly speculative. Some parents may not have a problem leaving a 13 or 14 year old child at home by themselves for several hours. Others might think this is child endangerment.

Another common line of defense is attack evidence between the child and the caregiver. This is often an issue when someone served in the past as a caregiver but does not want to have that role any longer.

The last common defense is proving that you delivered the child to a safe place. Many states have this defense now to prevent unwanted babies from being thrown in dumpsters and trash cans. If the person does not want to care for the child, he or she can avoid criminal charges by taking him or her to a hospital or emergency room. Even though these laws are more designed for newborns, there are cases where older children have been given up at a safe haven because they could no longer care for them. No charges usually are filed, depending upon the state.

Child Endangerment Statute of Limitations

The rules for statute of limitations for child endangerment or neglect vary by state, and depend upon the age of the child, type of endangerment, and criminal history. Generally, the statute of limitations will be between three to 10 years.

Child Endangerment Cases