A parent, guardian or caregiver who is taking care of a child also has the legal responsibility to protect that child from unreasonable danger. When a person fails to do this, the state can can level a charge of child endangerment. In some states, child endangerment is considered a separate crime from child abuse, but other states place it in the same category as abuse.
Child Endangerment Characteristics
While states vary in how child endangerment is categorized, it is always a crime. The laws share the following characteristics:
• Situations and actions that place a child in danger. This has a broad application and includes having unsecured guns in the home, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, exposing a child to drug deals and manufacturing, failing to safely secure a child inside of a car and leaving a child alone with no supervision.
• Potential or actual injuries. The laws surrounding child endangerment punish actions that lead to a child being harmed, but there is no requirement that a child actually suffer harm or injury. Endangerment is defined as a situation where a child’s physical and emotional health, welfare, morals or life is threatened. Child endangerment may still be charged if the caregiver’s actions eventually resulted in a child being harmed.
• Intentions. A prosecutor seeking a conviction for child endangerment does not have to prove intent that the caregiver meant to place the child in a harmful situation. The court can use the “reasonable person” standard in these cases, which means that even if the caregiver did not understand the danger of the situation, reasonable people in the same circumstances would see the danger and act accordingly.
• Mistakes. A child endangerment conviction requires that caregivers do more than simply act in an unwise manner or make a mistake. The child must be put into a situation where the most likely outcome is harm. As an example, a child left alone in vehicle with locked doors and a running engine is not considered to be endangerment.
The crime of child endangerment can be a misdemeanor or a felony. While states handle punishment for endangerment differently, the possible penalties are the same regardless of where the crime takes place. How the crime is charged depends on whether the child was put into a very dangerous situation or otherwise exposed to harm. There are some states where the difference between a misdemeanor and felony charge of endangerment is based on whether the actions of the adult caused physical harm to the child.
The possible penalties for child endangerment are:
• Going to jail or prison. A misdemeanor conviction of child endangerment usually means one year in jail. A more serious felony conviction can bring up to 10 years or more in prison.
• Being placed on probation. A person who is convicted of child endangerment may be placed on probation. In most cases, the probation lasts for one year and requires the person to check in with a probation officer, participate in family counseling and to cease the illegal actions. A probation violation can result in the person going to jail or prison.
• Paying a fine. A misdemeanor or felony charge of child endangerment can affect the size of the fine that is imposed. A misdemeanor charge is typical fined up to $1,000 while a felony conviction can bring a fine of to $10,000 or more.
• Losing parental rights. If a parent or caregiver receives a conviction for child endangerment, that person may lose their parental rights. In these cases, sole parental rights are awarded to the other parent or caretaker. If there is no appropriate person available, a new guardian is appointed by the court. In some cases, the child will be placed in the custody of the state until a new guardian is found.
A charge of child endangerment is a very serious thing that can have a large impact on the life of the caretaker, the child and the family. It can also result in jail time, fines or loss of parental rights. Anyone who has been charged with child endangerment should immediately consult with a legal firm that is experienced in criminal defense. This is the only way to receive accurate advice and learn how the laws of the state apply to the situation.
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