Child Abuse is defined as intentionally inflicting physical or mental injury to a child under the age of eighteen(18) years of age. Generally, so long as there is no great bodily harm or permanent injury to the child, this crime is categorized as a third degree felony. Third degree felonies are punishable by up to five(5) years in prison and/or a $5000.00 fine. If the mental or physical injury to the child results in great bodily harm, permanent disability or permanent disfigurement, the charge is Aggravated Child Abuse, which is categorized as a first degree felony. First degree felonies are punishable by up to thirty(30) years in prison and/or a $30,000.00 fine.
Because the State of Florida allows for corporal punishment as a reasonable means of disciplining a child, a parent or person acting as a parent cannot be charged by the State with a simple domestic battery against his/her own child. Therefore a parent’s conduct in disciplining a child is either legal or deemed to be child abuse. Disciplinary punishment rises to the level of child abuse where the State determines that a parent’s conduct is motivated by malice, the punishment is deemed excessive, cruel or merciless or where serious bodily injury is present.
Child Neglect is defined as the failure to provide a child with care, supervision or services necessary to maintain a child’s mental or physical health. This would include the failure to provide a child with food, clothing, shelter, supervision or medicine. Only “caregivers” can be held criminally liable under the Child Neglect law. A “caregiver” is defined as a parent, an adult household member or any other person responsible for a child’s welfare. Child Neglect is generally categorized as a third degree felony. If the neglect results in great bodily harm, permanent disfigurement or permanent harm it can be categorized a s a second degree felony.
Along with law enforcement, the Department of Family and Children’s Services (DCF) will generally be involved in cases where Child Abuse or Neglect is alleged. There are often two separate courts involved in these types of cases. It is very important that a person accused of this type of crime consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney to better understand the different legal rights and obligations that exist in these type of cases. Failure to consult with an experienced attorney who can advise you of these rights and obligations could result in the removal of the child from the family home as well as criminal prosecution.