Child Abuse – Child Neglect

Child abuse or neglect can have devastating effects on children and their families, as can false allegations, under-reporting, and lack of knowledge. Child abuse is often pursued with zeal, and some people are required by law to report cases of child abuse that have occurred. This section contains articles that explain what constitutes legal child abuse, elements needed to prove child abuse allegations, defenses that may be available in some cases, and potential penalties and sentencing options for offenders.

Child Abuse Defenses

Defending yourself against a charge of child abuse can be difficult, especially if it involves a child’s testimony. Combine this with the negative portrayal of child molesters in the media, and it may seem impossible to overcome the harsh realities of an allegation of child abuse.

If you are accused of child abuse – whether physical, emotional, or sexual – a criminal defense lawyer can develop a solid defense strategy and help cast doubt on the prosecutor’s case. Like other crimes, a person accused of child abuse has the same rights as those accused of other crimes, including the right to defend himself against a criminal charge.

While child abuse laws are designed to protect children, the justice system is in place to defend those wrongfully accused. Below are some of the most common (and some not so common) defenses that a person may assert on a child abuse charge:

False Allegations Of Child Abuse

False accusations of child abuse are more common than most people think, especially in dysfunctional families or between parents involved in a difficult battle over child custody. Although sometimes difficult to prove, the best strategy to defend against false accusations of child abuse is to aggressively counterattack the allegations and prove the accuser’s lie or similar unlawful conduct.

Most state child abuse laws do not punish accidents unless the accident results from carelessness or gross negligence. Examples of real accidents can include pushing your child on a bicycle and knocking it down and scratching their knees or unknowingly slapping your child’s hand in the door.

When a child’s injuries are the result of an accident, a person can use this defense to defend against child abuse charges, but the courts are divided prosecute parents who accidentally injure a child by negligent action (such as leaving a sleeping baby in a car alone on a hot day).

The Injury Is A Result Of Something Other Than Child Abuse

Sometimes parents are falsely accused of child abuse on the basis of non-accidental situations, such as when a child fights with another child and is injured or when a child has a pre-existing medical condition that contributes to her injuries. For example, a type of disease called “brittle bone disease” was used as a defense to show that his injuries resulted from a disorder that causes a child’s bones to break easily and not as a result of child abuse.

Parent’s Right To Discipline

Parents are generally free to discipline their children as they see fit, as long as the discipline is reasonable and does not cause bodily harm. However, the question of how a parent disciplines a child (for example, by spanking or threatening to spank) is often the subject of many cases of abuse. In certain circumstances, a parent or member of the “loco parentis” (such as a teacher) can invoke “parental privilege” and claim that he had the right to reasonably discipline a child under their authority. However, if a child’s injuries are more serious than minor bruising due to discipline, the parental privilege may not apply.

Religious Beliefs Or Exemption

While it is difficult to understand the thinking of a child who dies from an easily treatable disease, parents can request an exemption for child maltreatment for religious reasons when a child dies due to a parent’s inability to seek medical care for their sick child. Although controversial, this religious exemption is a defense in all but a handful of states. It allows parents to escape accusations of child abuse if they choose to pray for their sick children rather than taking them to a doctor.

Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy

In rare cases, a person accused of child abuse can invoke the little-known defense called Munchausen Syndrome by proxy (MSBP). MSBP describes incidents in which a babysitter, usually the mother, lies or promotes illnesses in her children to attract attention or sympathy to themselves. This defense generally requires proof of psychological or medical data.

There may be other defenses available depending on the circumstances in your particular case. It is wise to speak with a criminal defense lawyer who can help you understand your rights with respect to child abuse laws in your state.

Child Abuse Penalties And Sentencing

Sentencing for child abuse and neglect cases is often difficult for everyone involved – especially since child abuse cases are often widely publicized and have the potential to stigma on the family is great.

In most states, child abuse can be charged as a crime or a less serious offense depending on the circumstances. The most serious child abuse cases can be punished with life imprisonment, while the least serious cases are considered serious crimes with no possibility of imprisonment. The punishment will generally be more severe if the offender has a previous criminal record of child maltreatment and considerably reduced if there is no previous record.

For sentencing purposes, a person accused of child abuse may plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest. In many cases, the conviction will usually include probation or a prison sentence of up to five years. Sentencing in other, more serious cases may include a longer prison term.

Other possible sanctions and/or consequences may include:

  1. Lifetime obligation to register as a child sex offender
  2. Termination of parental rights
  3. Ruined reputation
  4. Criminal record
  5. Supervised access to the child
  6. Physical or actual loss and enjoyment of a child

Continual involvement with a child protective services agency Those who do not report child abuse or neglect also faces sanctions and consequences in some states with mandatory reporting laws. In these states, if a person has reason to suspect that someone is abusing a child, they should report it through a hotline or a law enforcement agency.

Failure to report such cases in a timely manner is considered a misdemeanor in most states and may result in fines, jail time, or both.

It is usually best to work with a criminal defense lawyer to reduce or lessen the severity of the penalties and sentencing in all cases involving child abuse.

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