An accusation of child abuse could be a case you never want to be associated with. When such a case is taken to trial, the court is likely to favor the child, who is the victim in the case, no matter the circumstances. Thus, you might end up spending many years in prison, alongside other severe penalties. But LA Criminal Defense Attorney is here for you so that if you are accused of child abuse, we can prepare a strong defense for your case. Our attorneys work with clients in Los Angeles, CA and the surrounding cities, and can help you by representing you in court.
What is Child Abuse?
Parents and guardians have the right to raise children and discipline them in a way they see fit. However, the California laws regarding child abuse aim at protecting children from any serious harm as a result of these actions. Child abuse, also known as the corporal injury on a child under the penal code 273d of California laws. Child abuse occurs when a parent or child’s caretaker emotionally, physically or sexually abuses or neglects a child, causing them harm.
Common Types of Child Abuse
Circumstances under which one can cause harm to a child could occur in school, at home or in other areas. There exist different types of child abuse that are punished by the law as described below:
Physical child abuse is the injury that results from physical aggression towards a child. Even when the action that caused harm was unintended, it is considered to be child abuse. Damages caused by a bodily injury on a child may result from beatings, slapping, choking or severe physical punishment.
Physical punishment is the use of force with an intention to inflict pain for correction or discipline. However, this punishment can get out of control and cause injury; hence, it is treated as child abuse. Physical child abuse can lead to severe trauma or even death for a child; therefore, these charges could land a defendant in serious trouble. If you or your loved one is accused of child abuse, it would be wise to seek some legal representation from a competent criminal defense attorney. Signs that could indicate a child has undergone physical abuse are:
- Resistance to go home or visit with a specific relative
- Fear of adults
- Unexplainable cuts, burns or bruises on their bodies.
Emotional Child Abuse
Although it is not as easy to identify emotional abuse as other forms of child abuse, emotional child abuse (also known as psychological maltreatment) comes in different ways. It could involve using belittling words or actions to a child or even verbally insulting them. Total indifference to their efforts could also result in emotional deprivation. In most cases, emotional child abuse occurs alongside physical and sexual abuse.
While this type of abuse presents itself through words, failure of a guardian to take care of a child and show them love could result in the feeling of being unwanted and lead to emotional abuse. Emotional abuse occurs in confined places; therefore, it is not easy to identify. However, a child’s behavior can indicate the presence of a problem at home or in school. A child could either act too immature or act overly mature for their age.
Here are some common signs of child emotional abuse:
- The decline in academic performance
- Lack of interest to engage in social activities
- Anxiety and low self-esteem
- Desperate attempt to seek attention and affection outside the home
- Strong desire to inflict pain on themselves or others
Most people assume that children who undergo emotional abuse don’t feel any attachment to the parents or guardians, which is not the case. Due to fear of what the abuser would do to them, an emotionally deprived child can choose not to show this behavior at all.
The consequences of emotional abuse are severe, and the impact can last a lifetime. Psychological maltreatment on a child increases their risk of suffering from mental health issues such as anxiety and depression later in life. A child who has undergone metal abuse may find it difficult to form and maintain healthy social relationships and also lack conflict resolution ability. Most cases of adolescent delinquency and aggression have been linked to emotional problems during childhood years.
People who underwent emotional abuse in their childhood are likely to continue the abuse cycle and do the same to their children. This type of abuse scars the society as a whole by increasing crime rates and worsening instances of educational failure.
Neglect is the most commonly experienced type of child abuse. Most cases of child neglect are not identified since it is as a result of omission or failure to perform the duties a guardian or parent has to the child. A single act which portrays neglect may not get treated as child abuse. However, repeated occurrence of those activities is a criminal offense against the child.
Child neglect could be physical when the one you fail to provide basic needs for the child as well as proper supervision and medical care, and as a result, harm befalls that child. It is viewed as educational neglect when a guardian does not enroll a child who is of school going age or failure to provide special education for children with special needs. You can get accused of emotional neglect when you don’t provide emotional support, affection, and love to a child under your care.
Child Sexual Abuse
Any sexual engagement between an adult and a minor is classified under the sexual abuse of a child. These acts may include making a child touch or kiss an adults genitals or doing the same on the child, forcefully coercing a child to take off their clothes or spying on them in private areas like the bathroom and sexual exploitation by engaging a minor in prostitution or child pornography.
Regardless of the circumstances or the child’s reaction towards the act, as an adult, you have the responsibility not to engage in sexual acts with a minor. Some signs that would show a child has been sexually abused are seductive behavior, avoiding anything related to their sexuality, fear of their parent or someone in the family and denial of their gender.
Although no pain is inflicted in these acts, threatening a child or inflicting fear in them is treated as a form of child abuse. The warnings could either be verbal or by use of weapons, and as a result, a child may end up getting emotional scars making them incapable of expressing their feelings and needs.
Threats as a form of child abuse occur hand in hand with other types of violence where the perpetrator instills fear in the victim to avoid reporting or sharing with someone else. For example, a father who regularly sexually abuses their child can threaten to kill them or their mother in case they report the incident.
What Can You Do if You Suspect Child Abuse?
Although most cases of child abuse occur at the secrecy of their homes, this is not a matter to get resolved privately. When suspecting a child abuse case, you need to act fast to ensure the child receives protection from further harm. Even when you are on the wrong, it is essential to secure the child’s safety before matters get out of hand.
If you have a suspicious that a particular child is getting abused in any way, it is your responsibility to seek help from local authorities, child welfare services or a hospital. The child’s safety is of the most concern in these situations ad you can save their lives by ensuring they are taken away from the case.
In the cases where you feel you have abused a child under your care or you fear to cause harm to them, make sure you keep away from the child and seek professional counseling to help you work out your abusive feelings. When you suspect that someone else is mistreating a child, you need to take them away until the relevant authorities arrive. However, you need to avoid taking matters into your own hands.
Doctors recommend that children who are suspected victims of abuse especially physical or sexual abuse get to hospitals for correct medical assessment and the children are offered treatment to avoid further injuries. To prevent emotional scarring for abused children, they need to receive psychological help to help them overcome the trauma of the occurrences.
What Follows a Child Abuse Report?
When an individual makes a report of the occurrence of an act of child abuse, the law enforcement or social workers to whom the statement was made will try to obtain more information regarding the victim. This information includes: Who the perpetrator of the abuse was, the type of injury that occurred, the relationship between the child and the abuser and the status of the child at the moment the report is made.
Different cases are handled differently based on the child’s situation, and the circumstances surrounding the act. The authority receiving this information will determine how and when to proceed depending on the seriousness of the event. In situations where a child is still exposed to danger, immediate response by law enforcers may be required. However, some cases are minor, and the child welfare department only contacts the family.
Investigations will be done separately for both the child welfare and the authorities. The primary goal for child welfare is to ensure the child is safe while the authorities strive to obtain evidence of the abuse and take the perpetrator to custody.
Legal Penalties for Child Abuse Charges
Since child abuse involves inflicting harm to the most vulnerable group of individuals in society, criminal defendants are treated aggressively. The severe consequences that people accused of this crime suffer are a clear indication of the attitude the community has towards child abuse. However, the offense could be charged as a misdemeanor like in the case of neglect or as a felony if sexual violence was involved. The severity of the penalties to be given varies depending on the circumstances under which the abuse occurred.
Some of the factors that influence the court’s decision on the type of punishment to give a child abuser are the age of the child involved. Abuse involving older children is likely to get a lesser treatment compared to that done on infants or younger children.
Although neglecting a child is a form of abuse it may not get punishments as severe as those of sexual abuse; therefore involvement of any sexual activity with a child can attract hefty penalties. Presence of physical or mental manifest to show the damage inflicted on the child could also affect the judge’s decision to sentence a defendant. If you are accused of child abuse and you have a criminal record, the punishment could be more severe as compared to a defendant with a clean criminal record.
Here are some penalties a defendant accused of child abuse is likely to face:
Especially in cases where the crime is charged as a misdemeanor, the judge may sentence a criminal defendant to probation. According to the California Penal Code 273d of child abuse laws, if you get a probation sentence for abusing a minor, the sentence must include some compulsory terms. These terms include probation of not less than 3 years, a protection order which prohibits you from making contact with the child to avoid further abuse and you will also be required to undergo a treatment program for child abusers for a period not less than one year. Besides, the court may need you to undergo random drug testing if the crime was committed under the influence of drugs.
Jail sentences are the most common penalties given for child abusers. However, the amount of time spent in jail will get determined on how the crime was charged. If charged as a misdemeanor a defendant is likely to pay a maximum of one year in prison while a felony charge will see you spend between two to six years in prison. In the case where the accused has a history of child abuse, there is an addition of four years in jail.
A conviction for a child abuse crime could cost you a fine of up to $6,000 for both a misdemeanor and a felony charge.
- Termination of Parental Rights
If you are accused of abusing your child or a child under your legal guardianship either physically, sexually or mentally, you are likely to lose your parental rights over them as a result of a conviction. To avoid recurrence of the same crime, the judge may award the custody of that child to someone else. In the cases where you are allowed to enjoy your rights as a parent, contact may be granted only under supervision.
- Ruined Reputation
Once a defendant is convicted on child abuse charges, they are likely to spend a significant amount of time in prison. This will enter you in the criminal records which appear during background checks. Finding employment may get difficult for you since most employers don’t like to have ex-convicts in their businesses.
If you get accused of sexually abusing a child, you will be required to register as a sexual offender for a lifetime. The court may also need you to involuntarily commit yourself to a mental facility or attend child abuse offender’s classes. This could hinder your social interactions with other people and lower your self-esteem. Besides, you won’t be allowed to visit any area with children like the parks, playgrounds and swimming pools.
Possible Defenses Against Child Abuse Charges
Since the criminal charges may include the child’s testimony, it is difficult to defend yourself against a child abuse allegation successfully. The court tends to be more sympathetic towards children and is likely to believe the child’s testimony with the aim of protecting them. However, due to the weight of child abuse cases, it is necessary to involve a criminal defense attorney to help you get a fair chance at the trial. Some defenses which could be available for you if you are facing child abuse charges are:
This is the most common type of argument often presented by defendants. Children can easily get manipulated to give false testimonies and fabricate an abuse claim when under fear or stress. In dysfunctional homes, a child may feel compelled to fake an incident of abuse to enable them to get out of the difficult conditions of their families.
Besides in divorces and child custody battles, one parent may try to put a child against the other parent by forcing them to give fabricated testimonies of abuse. By doing so the parent’s chances of getting full custody are increased. A skilled defense attorney will help you uncover important details surrounding the crime and identify any signs of false claims. This will provide proof that the act did not take place and the allegations are false.
Injury Due to Other Causes
The laws of California does not treat injuries caused by accidents as child abuse unless the damage was a result of the parent’s recklessness. For example, you may be training your child to bike ride then they fall and get hurt. You may raise this as a defense since the injuries were not intentional. In some situations, the parents get falsely accused of child abuse whereas the damage was caused by something else rather than the actions of the parents or guardians.
The basis for child abuse convictions is on the injury cause. Whether the accused was responsible for the actions that caused the injury or not is the central question that guides these trials. However, you can argue that the harm caused on the child was not intentional or was a result of other factors besides your actions.
Pre-existing Medical Conditions or Diseases
Some children are or with severe medical conditions which predispose them to harm on slight provocation. This type of child abuse defense may be available to a defendant if it can be demonstrated with proof that a pre-existing medical condition was the major contributor to the child’s injuries.
Some parents and caregivers may lie about a child’s health condition to divert the court's sympathy to the abuser rather than the victim. Therefore, for this defense to be successful it needs to be backed up by medical data.
There exist in situations where a child could die or suffer severe injuries due to lack of medical treatment. Even though this could get treated as neglect which is a form of child abuse, with the help of a criminal defense attorney you can argue that failure of a parent to seek medical help for their child was due to their religious beliefs. Although the laws respect people’s religious beliefs the relevance of the defense will depend on the circumstances.
Parental Disciplinary Rights
Generally, a parent or legal guardian has a right to choose the method they use to bring up and discipline a child as long as the process is reasonable and doesn’t result to any harm to the child. Spanking or threat to spank a child is one of the most common subjects in these cases.
However, in some situations, the parent is not present and a child is under the care of someone else like the babysitters or teachers. These individuals can present the defense on the basis that they had the right to act as parents depending on the situation. If there is no considerable harm caused on the child, this defense could be applicable.
If you are being charged with a crime feel free to contact our Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer for a free consultation.