Child Endangerment

The term “child endangerment” is used to describe an act, or the failure to perform an act, that puts a child’s safety in danger. Examples of child endangerment can include any threats to a child’s physical, mental, or emotional wellbeing. Child abuse that is the result of child endangerment is typically charged as a misdemeanor, though abuse that results in serious mental or physical effects is tried as a felony. To explore this concept, consider the following child endangerment definition.

Definition of Child Endangerment

Noun

  1. An act, or a neglect to perform an act, that causes a child to suffer physical, emotional, or psychological abuse.

Origin

1970-1975

Child Endangerment Laws

Child endangerment laws differ, depending on the state, as do the consequences for these crimes. However, there are certain elements of child endangerment laws that, more or less, remain the same no matter what state you live in.

For example, child endangerment laws do not typically apply to cases wherein parents have simply made a mistake, like leaving a child in a locked car with the engine running while they made a quick trip into a store. Child endangerment laws refer to people who deliberately put children in situations that would more than likely put them in danger.

If a mother were to take drugs or drink alcohol, and then drive with her child in the car, this would be a better example of child endangerment. She is more likely to get in an accident that would injure the child, and she was aware that what she was doing was dangerous for her child but did it anyway.

Child Endangerment Charges

Depending on the severity of the situation, child endangerment charges can be classified as either a misdemeanor or a felony. Whether a person is charged with a misdemeanor or a felony depends on whether the child was exposed to substantial danger or was put into a potentially dangerous situation. Some states make the decision to charge individuals with a felony child endangerment charge based on whether the child suffered a physical injury as a result of the individual’s actions, or inaction.

Penalties for child endangerment vary by state. In many jurisdictions, a person convicted on a misdemeanor charge will typically spend perhaps a year in prison. If he is convicted on a felony charge, however, he may face up to 10 years, or possibly more.

A person convicted on either a misdemeanor or felony can also be sentenced to probation. Probation typically lasts about a year, and during that time, the individual is required to complete Court-ordered activities, such as participating in family counseling and avoiding becoming involved with any other illegal activity. If someone on probation is caught doing something illegal, the court can then sentence him to jail time.

Someone convicted of a misdemeanor or felony may also be ordered to pay a fine in connection with his sentence. For a misdemeanor, the fines can be up to $1,000. For a felony, however, the fines can be $10,000 or more. Also, in the case of child endangerment, a sentence may include the stripping of the person’s parental rights. If there is no other parent present to care for the child, then the child would be appointed a legal guardian or, failing that, be placed with the state until a legal guardian can be appointed.

Reporting Child Endangerment

Many states have toll-free numbers for people to call for reporting child endangerment if they believe a child is being abused or neglected. The State Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Numbers list provides phone numbers for each state for the purpose of reporting child endangerment. In some states, it is actually required by law that a person report to their local agency if they suspect a child is being subjected to abuse. The case outlined below covers this in more detail.

There are laws in place to protect those who report what they believe to be child endangerment in the event they are, in fact, wrong. So long as the report is made in good faith – for example, that it isn’t just a spiteful neighbor making a report in order to get back at the neighbor she had a fight with – then the report will be taken seriously, and the person will not be penalized for making a false report. And, of course, in the event of an emergency, individuals are advised to call 9-1-1, rather than their state agencies.

DUI Child Endangerment

The penalties suffered for a DUI child endangerment charge are typically more severe. As mentioned above, this is because the individual knowingly drove the car, with a child as a passenger, after consuming enough alcohol to become intoxicated. DUI is a crime already, let alone DUI with a child in the car.

Typically DUI child endangerment is charged as two separate crimes in the same case. A person driving with any minor in the vehicle under 18 years of age can be charged with child endangerment. The penalty for child endangerment alone in this case may include a short incarceration in jail, in addition to whatever penalties are handed down by the court for the DUI charge. Further, while it is rare for a child to be taken away from his parent after a DUI charge, any crime involving a child is automatically reported to Child Protective Services.

Child Endangerment Example Involving a Prostitute’s Boyfriend

An example of child endangerment can be found in the case of Ohio v. Clark, which was decided in June 2015. Here, Darius Clark acted as a pimp to his girlfriend, sending her to Washington, D.C. to work for him. While she was gone, Clark was in charge of her two children: a three-year-old son (“L.P.”) and an 18-month-old daughter. While at preschool one day, the three-year-old’s teacher noticed bruises on his body. The boy identified Clark as his abuser.

After authorities investigated the situation and found bruises on the 18-month-old as well, Clark was arrested. He was charged with four counts of assault, two counts of child endangerment, and two counts of domestic violence. During the criminal trial, the State produced the statements the boy made to his teachers as proof that Clark was guilty of abuse. The trial court ruled that the boy would not have to testify against Clark, as Ohio law dictated that the statement could be entered as evidence without the need for a young child to have to testify against his attacker.

Clark was ultimately convicted on all charges, except for one of the assault charges. He appealed his conviction and tried to have the boy’s statements struck. The argument was that, since the boy did not testify, then accepting his statement into evidence was actually a violation of the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment. Clark’s lawyers actually argued that he should have the right to confront his accuser…a three-year-old boy.

If that’s not crazy enough, the appellate court actually agreed with Clark and overturned the trial court’s decision! The case then escalated to the Ohio Supreme Court, and the Ohio Supreme Court also upheld it! Justice was finally served when the case reached the United States Supreme Court. In a unanimous decision, the Court struck down the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision.

Justice Alito, speaking for the Court, agreed that while statements are normally inadmissible if the party does not testify, there are some exceptions to that rule. If the situation is, in fact, one that calls for an exception to be made, the statement would be guided by state or federal rules, not the Confrontation Clause. And, in this case, the Court did not believe the child’s statement was one that should have been considered a form of testimony.

Said the Court:

“L. P.’s statements occurred in the context of an ongoing emergency involving suspected child abuse. When L. P.’s teachers noticed his injuries, they rightly became worried that the 3-year-old was the victim of serious violence. Because the teachers needed to know whether it was safe to release L. P. to his guardian at the end of the day, they needed to determine who might be abusing the child. Thus, the immediate concern was to protect a vulnerable child who needed help…L. P.’s teachers were not sure who had abused him or how best to secure his safety. Nor were they sure whether any other children might be at risk. As a result, their questions and L. P.’s answers were primarily aimed at identifying and ending the threat…

“The Court also found that the child’s young age makes it unlikely that he could understand the idea of criminal prosecution or testifying against a witness. Thus, the statement made by the child was in the context of wanting to be safe from harm, rather than trying to induce a legal process. This is not undermined by the teacher’s requirement under mandatory reporting laws to inform the police. Instead, the statement was said in response to questions asked in good faith by teachers looking out for the wellbeing of their student.”

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Felony – A crime, often involving violence, regarded as more serious than a misdemeanor. Felony crimes are usually punishable by imprisonment more than one year.
  • Misdemeanor – A criminal offense less serious than a felony.
  • Prosecution – The lawyers who argue that the person being accused of a crime is guilty.
  • Prostitution – The practice of engaging in sexual activity in exchange for money or other payment.
  • Testimony – A declaration or statement of a witness under oath, usually in court.

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