It is possible to commit an act of child abuse or child neglect by accident. In many cases, a parent might physically harm a child without seeing them or leave a child unsupervised for a short period of time. Unfortunately, Florida’s child abuse and neglect statutes often misinterpret these incidents as intentional and malicious. The acts that qualify as child abuse and neglect are numerous, meaning that almost any situation in which a child is harmed could lead to a criminal charge. This has led to the unfair punishment of many caregivers who have been nothing but devoted and responsible.
If you have been charged with either of these crimes, you are likely worried about the consequences that could follow a conviction. Depending on the nature of the offense, child abuse and neglect can be charged as either a first, second, or third-degree felony. This translates to paying fines and spending years in state prison. Sarasota child abuse lawyer Erika Valcarcel of Erika Valcarcel, Criminal Defense Lawyer, P.A. has worked as both a defender and a prosecutor. With experience on both sides of the courtroom, she can craft the best possible defense in order to maintain your freedom.
Call (941) 363-7900 now to see how she can keep your record clean.
Florida Child Abuse and Neglect Laws
Contrary to popular belief, child abuse and child neglect are actually two individual crimes. As is the case with assault and battery, however, the two often go hand in hand.
According to the state of Florida, child abuse occurs when physical, mental, or sexual abuse, or any form of harm occurs as a result of an intentional and malicious act. Here, malicious means that a caregiver harmed a child for the sole purpose of inflicting pain and suffering. Acts that qualify as standard punishments, such as spanking, are not normally considered forms of abuse, as these actions have a specific and reasonable purpose.
Examples of child abuse, or harm to a child’s welfare, are listed below:
- An injury occurs to a child that a person inflicted or allowed to be inflicted
- A person uses excessive discipline that is likely to cause harm or injury
- A parent exposes their child to alcohol or drugs
- A person engages in reckless behavior with no regard for the safety of their child
Neglect does not typically involve physical contact or direct harm. Instead, it occurs when a child is not given the food, clothing, water, shelter, or medical attention necessary for their survival. Child neglect also takes place when a child is allowed to live in an area that results in significant health impairments or that is likely to result in significant health impairments. Failing to protect a child from any form of abuse or neglect at the hands of another individual is also a crime.
Instances of child neglect include, but are not limited to:
- Allowing a child to sleep outside, exposed to the elements
- Leaving a child of a young age unattended for extended periods of time
- Abandoning a child at another person’s residence
- Not feeding a child nutritious and balanced meals
Criminal Penalties and Other Consequences
A crime that involves a basic form of child abuse or child neglect is filed as a third-degree felony. However, this is not the case when aggravating factors, or factors that make the crime more serious, are present. Either crime automatically becomes aggravated if the child suffers great bodily harm. If a child is severely disfigured as a result of intentional burns, for example, the perpetrator would be charged with aggravated child abuse. Sentences for these crimes include, but are not limited to:
- Child Abuse (Third Degree Felony): A fine of up to $5,000, up to 5 years on probation, and up to 5 years in prison
- Child Neglect (Third Degree Felony): A fine of up to $5,000, up to 5 years on probation, and up to 5 years in prison
- Aggravated Child Abuse (First Degree Felony): Up to 30 years in prison
- Aggravated Child Neglect (Second Degree Felony): Up to 15 years in prison
In addition to criminal penalties, there are also collateral consequences that can permanently alter your life. Finding a job after you are released from prison may be difficult, as most employers try to avoid hiring individuals with criminal records. Continuing your education might also be a challenge. Most colleges and universities thoroughly vet all applicants. In addition, most scholarships are off limits to those who have been convicted of felonies.
Defenses Against Child Abuse and Neglect
There are a number of defenses an experienced attorney can use to get your charges reduced or dismissed. One of the most common and successful strategies is claiming that the child was harmed in an accident. Maybe you made a violent movement without seeing that a child was nearby, or perhaps a child ingested dangerous materials while you were cleaning the house. It could also be the case that the injuries sustained by the child were caused by something other than abuse, such as falling at a playground or accidentally tumbling down the stairs. Proving that a crime did not take place is the best way to avoid being convicted in court.
Contact Erika Valcarcel, Criminal Defense Lawyer, P.A. Today
Charges of child abuse or child neglect can cause unspeakable devastation. A conviction could lead to time spent behind bars. Even worse, you could lose out on the opportunity to raise your children. Sarasota child abuse lawyer Erika Valcarcel is well-versed in reaching desirable legal outcomes. She will listen to your side of the story and work tirelessly to gather every detail. Once all of the information is known, your case can be presented in the best possible light.