The statutes prohibiting child abuse apply summarily to custodians of minors whose willful or negligent actions or omissions to provide necessary care for the child result in injury or endangerment to the life, physical or mental health, or morals of the minor. These statutes are extremely broad and can encapsulate a variety of situations. Some common examples of child abuse are when a child has ready access or proximity to dangerous drugs, when a minor is left confined in dangerous places, and when someone leaves a minor in places or situations where they are vulnerable to sexual abuse.
The legal definition of willful conduct generally means intentional conduct with a malicious purpose. In cases where the conduct is alleged to be negligent, the court may not find the defendant criminally liable unless a prosecutor proves that the defendant’s conduct was more than simple negligence.
If you have been charged with endangering a child, you should speak with a Prince William County child abuse lawyer. A skilled attorney could review your case and help defend you in court.
Once someone reports a case of child abuse, the proper local government authorities, such as the Department of Social Services and Child Protective Services, investigate the report and take protective custody of the children involved if need be. If the report escalates into the court system, law enforcement may serve on the alleged abuser a child abuse charge.
There may be protective orders issued for the child as well as the potential appointment of a guardian ad litem to represent the best interest of the child during the different phases of the case. It is important to realize that certain government employees like teachers and medical officials are legally required to report instances of child abuse that they should reasonably suspect. Failure to do so can be punishable as a separate criminal offense, whether or not the alleged abuser is ultimately convicted.
Child abuse charges can result in a person temporarily losing custody of their child and being prohibited from further contact their child until the resolution of the case. Such charges also can result in the arrest of the alleged abuser detainment in jail pending trial. Entities that run background checks may notice a pending child abuse charge and halt any further activities with the accused until the court fully litigates the case. Charges alone may disadvantage an accused in related custody or divorce proceedings and can be simultaneously prosecuted in a personal civil suit.
The most serious statutory child abuse charges are felonies, meaning the accused may face thousands of dollars in fines, time in prison, and supervised probation upon release. If the child abuse caused serious injury to the life or health of the child, the conviction might be a Class 4 felony punishable by two to ten years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. Serious injury can include disfigurement, fractures, severe burns and lacerations, mutilation, maiming, forced ingestion of dangerous substances, and life-threatening internal injuries.
Instances of child abuse where there is non-serious injury or a reckless disregard for human life may result in a Class 6 felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison and up to a $2,500 fine. If a person contributes to or encourages a situation that renders minor endangerment, that is a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to 12 months in jail, and up to a $2,500 fine.
After release from incarceration, the court may prevent the accused from some or all forms of contact with the child for some amount of time, and they may lose various civil rights as a convicted felon. There also can be an enormous social and professional stigma associated with this type of conviction, and certain sectors of employment may no longer be available to a person accused of child abuse. Because all of the consequences of a child abuse charge and conviction can be extremely severe, someone facing these penalties should speak with a Prince William County child abuse attorney for help on their case.
Prosecutors may use common issues and evidence in a criminal case against a defendant in a related civil case. As such, an unfavorable resolution of a criminal case also can hurt the defendant’s prospects of succeeding in a civil case. However, there are limited instances where the result of a criminal case may help in the related civil case.
A criminal acquittal does not automatically end an ancillary civil case because the burdens of proof are different between the two systems, but it can still benefit an accused unofficially. If the court establishes at trial that the alleged victim was lying or lacking in credibility, or that the wrong person was accused, a Prince William County child endangerment lawyer may use the same evidence and arguments in defense of the civil case if the plaintiff decides to continue with the prosecution.
Civil case results do not affect criminal cases as much as criminal case results affect civil cases. However, both kinds of cases can negatively affect the defendant if either case results in an outcome which finds legal fault on the defendant’s part, or if there are common evidentiary issues. For example, if a defendant testifies under oath in one case, that can be used against him in the other case. Similar rules apply for other testifying witnesses. Sometimes when there are simultaneous cases, a settlement or plea offer may be prefaced on an agreed result in the other case.
It is encouraged to explore the opinions and services of a defense attorney when charged with child abuse, given the severity of the potential consequences. Alleged abusers may not be well-equipped to represent themselves in such emotionally-charged cases, and may not be allowed to effectively contact or negotiate with the other parties in the case. Defendants in these cases might also be vastly unaware of what evidence the court may expect to be presented, and how the rules of evidence can either help or hurt the presentation of a chosen defense.
For these reasons and more, if you are facing minor endangerment charges, contact a Prince William County child abuse lawyer to discuss how to build your case. Call now for a free consultation.
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