Stories of child endangerment that result in criminal charges often make the news and provoke outrage. As the most vulnerable segment of the population, it is understandable that people react with anger simply reading the words “child endangerment”. Rightly so in many cases, if children are truly put at risk of serious harm.
However, it is also quite common for an overreaction to minor incidents Police and child welfare (DCF) have been known to jump into cases that should not warrant a reaction from the authorities, especially on a criminal level. The Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, in particular ,has made big mistakes in some high profile cases, where more harm was caused to children than they were allegedly trying to prevent.
When you are accused of hurting a child, standing by while a child is hurt, or simply ignoring a risk for a child to be hurt you will not only face embarrassment and difficult questions but serious criminal charges. And you are at risk of losing custody of your child in serious cases.
Under Chapter 265-13L of the Massachusetts general statutes, you could face up to 2.5 years in prison for child endangerment. The laws define this crime as “wantonly or recklessly engaging in conduct that creates a substantial risk of serious bodily injury or sexual abuse to a child” or failing to take reasonable steps to stop such risk when it is present.
In other words, if you see a child being put in a situation that could seriously hurt them or result in sexual abuse and you do nothing to prevent it, you can be charged.
Examples of child endangerment, or reckless endangerment of a child under 18 that make the news include:
- Drunk driving with a child in the car (OUI)
- Drugs in the home with a child or other unsafe or dangerous materials, conditions, or with dangerous persons
- Leaving children unattended, either inside the home or outside the home
Clearly this is can be a serious crime, and slight nuances in your case could even lead to more serious criminal charges. For instance, if you actively took place in the activities that caused the harm, your charge would likely be elevated to something far more dramatic.
Please call me for help in working out a resolution to this difficult charge. You can’t handle a criminal accusation like this alone without an experienced criminal defense lawyer looking out for your interests in court.
Child Endangerment Penalties
Massachusetts law defines child endangerment as “Wanton or reckless behavior creating a risk of serious bodily injury or sexual abuse to a child” or “recklessly fails to take reasonable steps to alleviate such risk where there is a duty to act”
The penalty for this offense us up to 2 1/2 years in prison. It is a felony charge.
“… wanton or reckless behavior occurs when a person is aware of and consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that his acts, or omissions where there is a duty to act, would result in serious bodily injury or sexual abuse to a child. The risk must be of such nature and degree that disregard of the risk constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartIV/TitleI/Chapter265/Section13L
OUI with Child Endangerment
In 2005 as part of Melanie’s Law, legislators in Massachusetts made it a separate criminal offense under OUI laws to drive while intoxicated with a child in the car under 14 years of age. This made it a separate criminal offense that defendants could face in addition to OUI charges.
Under this new law, you can be charged with child endangerment for having your child in the car when you are arrested for OUI. Any penalties for this offense would be above and beyond the basic OUI charge. In most situations, a first time OUI child endangerment charge carries up to 90 days in jail, 1-year driver’s license suspension, and fines.
Child Endangerment Defenses
In my experience, most “child endangerment cases” are nowhere near as dramatic or dangerous as the charge sounds. But, prosecutors can be aggressive in these cases, and don’t want to be accused of putting children at risk, even in situations where the charge is completely over the top or not truly warranted by the facts.
My job as a defense attorney is to de-escalate the situation and find alternatives that will avoid risking the most serious penalties.
The best interests of the child are always paramount, but that can mean many different things. In cases where the child has been around parental drug use, it is rare that separating a kid from his parent is what is best for him or her. We can work to get the
We always work to get the parents any help they need to be there for their children. Sometimes that includes drug treatment or anger management. And sometimes that just means an aggressive defense in court to protect their rights, and their families.
I am accused of a crime or was arrested. Can my child be taken away?
Probably not. It would have to be a serious situation where the child is at risk.
An officer threatened me with taking my child away. Can he do that?
Police officers may lie about this to scare you or make you confess to crimes. We had a client where the officer threatened her with a child endangerment charge after she was accused of shoplifting with her child present.
This is just cruel behavior and absolutely not true.
Only in extreme cases would an officer have this authority and would DCF get involved.
Please call for a case evaluation and learn what we can do to help.
It is difficult to offer specific advice since these cases are so specific and so personal.
Criminal laws regarding children as victims are notoriously harsh, and can be complicated to defend in court. In an effort to protect kids, it often feels like you have been judged long before your day in court.
When facing charges like these, you need an experienced local attorney on your side working on your behalf. You need someone in your corner.
If you are facing charges of child endangerment or OUI with child endangerment, contact our offices today.
We have aggressively defended cases of child endangerment before. And we have handled hundreds of OUI cases, and a number of them with child endangerment charges attached. Let us use our experience to help you through this difficult time.