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Child Abuse

In Florida, the crime of child abuse is one taken very seriously by police and prosecutors. If you are accused of child abuse, it is critically important to immediately seek legal defense counsel. 

These cases can be emotionally wrought, but also highly technical – often requiring input from expert witnesses. Child injuries or ailments can deceivingly appear to be evidence of abuse, even when they are not. Corporal punishment – which is legal – can be misconstrued as abuse.

The testimony of a child can be powerful (and sometimes the only) evidence in a child abuse case. But in reality, sometimes children do not fully understand the questions being asked of them. Kids can also be incredibly susceptible to the power of suggestion, and some may have a tendency to exaggerate, fabricate stories, twist the truth, deny the obvious or even outright lie. They don’t want to disappoint the adult in front of them asking questions. There have also been situations where symptoms of conditions like autism were mistaken for child abuse or neglect. There are unique approaches that must be employed by social workers, teachers, health care workers, police and prosecutors who are questioning children. But too many take into account child psychology when investigating these cases, and the result is innocent people end up behind bars.

There are typically a number of viable defenses in Broward child abuse cases, but your best bet is hire a trusted criminal defense attorney to make them for you. Attempting to explain yourself to investigators without the benefit of an attorney can end up getting you into more trouble. (And yes, this is true even if you are 100% innocent.) Let your lawyer do the talking. 

How Does Florida Define Child Abuse? 

Florida defines child abuse in F.S. 827.03 as various forms of mistreatment by an adult over 18 against a minor. It can include physical abuse/harm, but also emotional abuse and neglect. 

The following are considered “child abuse” under Florida law:

  • The intentional infliction of physical or mental injury upon a child (person who is under 18).
  • An intentional act that one might reasonably expect could result in physical or mental injury to a child. 
  • Active encouragement of any person to commit an act that results or could reasonably be expected to result in physical or mental injury to a child.

Note: It is not necessary for the child in question to have suffered injury in order for prosecutors to secure a child abuse conviction. A “mental injury” is defined as injury to the child’s intellectual or psychological capacity, as evidenced by impairment of the child’s ability to function within a normal range of behavior. Even if the child has not suffered “great bodily harm,” child abuse in Florida is considered a third-degree felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison. 

The charge is more serious if there were aggravating factors. Aggravated child abuse in Florida can involve:

  • Intentionally or knowingly causing a child (person under 18) great bodily harm, permanent disability or permanent disfigurement. 
  • Committing battery with the use of a deadly weapon.
  • Willfully torturing, maliciously punishing, or willfully and unlawfully caging a child. 

Aggravated child abuse is a first-degree felony, punishable by up to 30 years in prison. 

Given the nature of these charges and the critical lens through which society views crimes against children, accusations alone can upend your career, child custody arrangement and reputation. Contacting an experienced felony criminal defense lawyer in Broward County as soon as possible is essential. 

Is Spanking Considered Child Abuse in Florida?

It is not illegal to spank your child in Florida

Florida recognizes something called “parental privilege,” which is the right of a parent (or someone standing in loco parentis) to moderately chastise a child under their control/authority for the purpose of correction. 

As outlined in the 2002 Florida Supreme Court ruling in Raford v. State, corporal punishment must be “reasonable” and “non-excessive.” A “typical spanking” (generally understood as simple battery) isn’t going to be a crime. This does not mean parents are immune from allegations of child abuse if they spank their child. However, it does mean that a parent can argue his/her actions were within reasonable limits of parental privilege. 

But courts have often found it tough to identify a clear line between what is permissible corporal punishment and what is outlawed child abuse. The Florida Supreme Court even outright stated that prior cases of parental discipline being charged as child abuse “should stand as a warning, to parents and others alike, who quickly turn to corporal punishment as a solution to child discipline problems. … There is a serious risk of ‘going too far’ every time…” 

Other Defenses in Florida Child Abuse Cases

In addition to parental privilege/spanking, other possible defenses in Fort Lauderdale child abuse cases might include:

  • Factual disputes or insufficient evidence. If the allegations are not adequately supported by the physical evidence, we may be in a strong position to argue the prosecutors have their facts wrong. 
  • Non-intentional acts. Sometimes a parent or caretaker causes injury to a child unintentionally. The crime of child abuse requires the element of intent. Example: A parent is cooking when a child gets underfoot and the parent accidentally spills boiling water on the child. The child is seriously hurt, but that doesn’t make it a case of child abuse. The spill was an accident. One might argue negligence, but the injury was not intentional. It might also be a viable argument if a parent’s efforts to restrain their child in a public place were misinterpreted as acts of abuse. Even if the child suffered injury, one could argue the intention was to protect (and injuries might have been worse had they not acted). 
  • Self defense. This is often a defense that is raised in cases of alleged child abuse involving teenagers. Teens can sometimes be bigger than their parents, but still lack the emotional maturity to deal with stressful or highly agitating situations. If they physically lash out against their parent(s), the latter has the right to defend themselves, or others in the home. 
  • False accusations. Kids lie for lots of reasons. They might be angry and want to get back at a parent for a punishment they didn’t like. But falsehoods may not even be malicious. They might stem from questioning in which a child misunderstood or was unable to accurately answer questions of a mandated reporter (i.e., teacher, healthcare worker, social worker, counselor, etc.). 

If you have been charged with child abuse or other violent crime in South Florida, contact the Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Lawyers at The Ansara Law Firm by calling (954) 761-4011.

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