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Child Abuse

We live in a society that is puts at the forefront of our minds the protection of children, and in this area the law has been quick to keep up. Two cases which received national media attention led the United States and North Carolina Legislature in 2013 to overhaul the penalties and charges relating to the protection our law affords children: “Kilah’s Law,” and “Caylee’s Law.”

The first case involved a four year old named Kilah Davenport, who suffered permanent brain damage due to a beating she received from her stepfather, and who later died from her injuries. The second case involved Caylee Anthony, whose disappearance was not reported to the authorities for almost a month. Her mother, Casey Anthony was charged with murdering her daughter, aggravated child abuse and aggravated manslaughter, and four counts of making false statements regarding her disappearance to the authorities. The North Carolina Legislature responded by enhancing the punishments for the most serious child abuse offenses (“Kilah’s Law”), and by creating new criminal charges and adding language to pre-existing charges to cover reporting missing children (“Caylee’s Law”).

The law as it now stands covers a wide variety of situations and fact patterns, and a discussion of all the different variations of child abuse would be an extremely long article; this section will therefore give an overview of some of the most common charges. Our society has changed in how we think children should be punished, and even what may have been “normal” or “socially acceptable” even just a few years ago can now form the factual basis for allegations that a child has been abused. For example, if you redirect your child’s bad behavior by spanking them and they tell a teacher at school that it hurt, you could be found guilty of misdemeanor child abuse if the spanking inflicted “physical injury.” Physical injury is a very low bar, and arguably anything that causes pain can possibly satisfy the element.

Misdemeanor child abuse requires a parent or person tasked with supervising a child under the age of sixteen (16) to cause, allow, or create a risk of physical injury to be inflicted on the child, other than by accidental means. Felony child abuse has many variations:

  1. It is a class Class D felony for a parent or person tasked with supervising or caring for a child under the age of sixteen (16) to either purposely inflict “serious physical injury” or assault the child and cause “serious physical injury.”

  2. If, however, the injury instead results in “serious bodily injury” or ends up causing the child permanent loss or impairment of a “mental or emotional function,” it is a Class B2 felony.

  3. If the parent or supervisor’s act or grossly negligent failure to act causes “serious bodily injury” and shows a reckless disregard for the child’s life, regardless of whether there is a loss or impairment of function, it is a Class E felony. Caylee’s Law included failure to report a child as missing as sufficient to show a grossly negligent failure to act.

  4. However, if the act or grossly negligent failure to act only results in “serious physical injury,” it is a Class G felony.

  5. It is also a Class D felony for the same person to engage in, encourage, or allow the minor to engage in prostitution or commit a sexual act.

As is evident, the difference between serious “bodily” injury and serious “physical” injury makes a great deal of difference, and as such is one of the most commonly litigation issues regarding child abuse.

Caylee’s Law also created the Class I felony and Class 1 misdemeanor surrounding failure to report a child under 16’s disappearing for over 24 hours. If the parent or person tasked with the child’s supervision “knowingly or wantonly” fails to report their disappearance, a factual basis could exist for Class I felony failure to report. However, if anyone (not just a parent or person tasked with supervision) fails to report they have a reasonable belief that a child has gone missing for over 24 hours and may be in danger, it is a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Contributing to a juvenile being delinquent, undisciplined, abused, or neglected is also a Class 1 misdemeanor. This offense can cover children under the age of 18, and can be either charged instead of abuse or in conjunction with it, depending on the facts. To form the basis for this allegation, there does not even need to be an actual adjudication, only that there could be one. Furthermore, the definition “abuse” can be different than the way in which it is used in the context of child abuse, and even “undisciplined,” “delinquency,” and “neglect” have different meanings than they do outside of court. For example, if your child is “unlawfully” absent from school, they could be adjudicated undisciplined and you could be found guilty of this offense. If your child is consistently disobedient (to you or to a teacher, for example), they could be adjudicated undisciplined and you could be found guilty of this offense. If your child gets charged with a crime or even just an infraction, they could be found delinquent and you could be charged with this offense.

Charge: Misdemeanor Child Abuse
Offense Class: Class A1 misdemeanor
Maximum Jail Time: 150 days

Charge: Child Abuse Resulting in Serious Physical Injury
Offense Class: Class D Felony
Maximum Jail Time: 128-166 months

Charge: Child Abuse Resulting in Serious Bodily Injury or Loss or Impairment of Mental or Emotional Function
Offense Class: Class B2 Felony
Maximum Jail Time: 314-389 months

Charge: Child Abuse Showing Reckless Disregard Causing Serious Bodily Injury
Offense Class: Class E Felony
Maximum Jail Time: 50-72 months

Charge: Child Abuse Showing Reckless Disregard Causing Serious Physical Injury
Offense Class: Class G Felony
Maximum Jail Time: 25-39 months

Charge: Child Abuse by Prostitution or Sexual Act
Offense Class: Class D Felony
Maximum Jail Time: 128-166 months

Charge: Knowing or Wanton Failure of Parent or Supervisor to Report Disappearance of a Child
Offense Class: Class I Felony
Maximum Jail Time: 10-21 months

Charge: Failure to Report Disappearance of Child Who May be in Danger
Offense Class: Class 1 misdemeanor
Maximum Jail Time: 120 days

Charge: Contributing to Delinquency, etc. of a Minor
Offense Class: Class 1 misdemeanor
Maximum Jail Time: 120 days

Even just being charged with child abuse or contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile can be extremely detrimental to your life, your job, and your family, as the stigma associated with being a child “abuser” is one that is very difficult to avoid. As such, if you or someone you know has been charged with child abuse or any variation of it, hiring an attorney is certainly in your best interest. Here at Arnold & Smith, PLLC, we have attorneys experienced in both prosecuting child abuse cases as well as defending against them, and would be happy to help try and make the best out of a bad situation. Call us today at 855-370-2828 or click Contact Us to submit a form to have our office contact you.

Charlotte Criminal Lawyer Blog - Child Abuse/Neglect