Everything You Need to Know About Child Endangerment

Child endangerment is any act by a caregiver that results in mental and physical harm to the child. This Buzzle article provides more details about what constitutes child endangerment, and the penalties for this serious offense.
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Drunk driving and child endangerment
Did You Know?
In Colorado, if you knowingly or unknowingly commit an act that injures a child under the age of 16, it is considered as child abuse, and if death results, it is a Class 2 felony, which carries a term of 8-24 years in prison and/or a fine of USD 5,000 - USD 1,000,000.
As a parent or an adult caregiver, you are responsible for protecting a child's mental, physical, and emotional well-being. In case the adult caregiver or parent puts the child in a dangerous or inappropriate situation where the child is in imminent danger of bodily injury, physical or mental impairment, or even death, it amounts to felony and child endangerment. The act can be done intentionally, unknowingly, or recklessly.

A simple example of child endangerment would be driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, with a child in the car. Exposing children to firearms, illegal drugs, domestic violence, or criminal activity would also constitute child endangerment. Different states have laws that punish this crime as a separate offense, or include it in the existing child abuse statutes.

What Constitutes Child Endangerment

Different states have different child endangerment laws. The acts are often applied broadly, and there are a number of acts that can lead to conviction of child endangerment. Some dangerous acts that constitute child endangerment include:

Leaving unsecured firearms within reach of children
Leaving a child unattended in a motor vehicle
Drunk driving with a child in the car
Lack of safety restraint belts while driving
Leaving the child in care of a person with a known history of sexual offenses
Manufacturing and using drugs in presence of a child
Extreme corporal punishment resulting in bodily harm
Leaving a child in care of another child
Providing drugs or drinks to a minor
Deserting a minor under circumstances where there is a substantial risk of physical injury or death
Permitting or not reporting the abuse of a minor
Failing to report a missing child
Failing to provide medical treatment

In Texas, coming across a lost child and driving by, could also be classified under child endangerment. The injury in this case can be actual as well as potential. If the act could have led to a potential physical injury, it is punishable under child endangerment. Apart from physical harm, many states penalize caregivers for causing mental or emotional harm to a child. If they believe that the child's moral and emotional well-being is jeopardized, then they might categorize it as child endangerment.

Is the Act Intentional?

Has the caregiver willfully caused or permitted a child in his/her care to be harmed or injured, or was it done recklessly or by mistake? In most cases of child endangerment, the courts apply a "reasonable person" standard, which means that, even if the accused failed to realize the situation was dangerous, reasonable people in that situation would have understood their actions endangered the child's well-being. The circumstances may differ for each case, and the adult caregiver must have done more than simply make a mistake or act unwisely. If there is a more than likely chance of the child coming to harm, then the person may be convicted of child endangerment.

Punishment for Child Endangerment

The penalties for child endangerment can be serious depending upon the charges. If the charges involve a risk of bodily injury or death, then the offense of child endangerment is a wobbler, which means, it may be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. If the act is done knowingly or intentionally, it is classified as felony.

If convicted of a misdemeanor, a person typically faces up to one year in prison, while anyone convicted of child endangerment felony faces 1 to 10 years in prison, or more. In certain cases, a person may have to serve a probation sentence. A misdemeanor conviction can also bring fines of up to USD 1,000, while felony convictions can come with fines of up to USD 10,000 or more. Sometimes, the court can strip the parent or guardian of parental rights, place the child under state child services agency, and appoint another guardian for the child.

Child endangerment is a serious charge which can have severe repercussions. If faced with child endangerment charges, a person should consult an experienced criminal defense attorney.
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Published: March 6, 2014
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