If you are caring for a child – whether your own or someone else’s – you have a legal responsibility to keep that child away from unreasonably harmful or dangerous situations. If you put a child in an unhealthy, inappropriate, or dangerous situation, or you don’t intervene to help remove a child from such a situation, you may be charged with child endangerment. In MA, child endangerment is a serious crime with equally serious consequences.
Children are vulnerable. As adults, it is our responsibility to protect them to the best of our abilities. Child endangerment, abuse, and neglect are punished harshly, and being convicted of any of these crimes can bring a lifetime of consequences. In addition to imprisonment and hefty fines, crimes related to child welfare can ruin your reputation, and negatively impact your ability to get a job or find housing for the rest of your life. Prosecutors can be especially aggressive when it comes to child endangerment cases; nobody wants to go easy on someone who harmed an innocent child. For this reason, child endangerment charges often get blown out of proportion.
OUI with a Child in the Vehicle
One of the most common types of child endangerment charges involves a parent who is arrested for OUI with a child in the vehicle. We all know that drunk driving is illegal, and that doing so with a child is even worse. But people make mistakes…even parents. Let’s say, for example, that Stacy goes to a friend’s house for dinner. She takes her four-year-old twins, Nolan and Chloe. Stacy has two glasses of wine with dinner, knowing that she’ll be fine to drive after a big meal and the passing of several hours. But Stacy’s mom calls from the hospital; she’s having heart palpitations. Stacy scoops up the twins and rushes to the hospital. In a panic, she fails to come to a complete stop at a stop sign and gets pulled over. The officer smells alcohol on Stacy’s breath, and asks her to get out of the vehicle. Stacy submits to a breath test, which registers a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.09. Stacy is arrested for OUI and winds up facing additional charges for child endangerment.
Common Types of Child Endangerment
The point of the story above is not that Stacy didn’t do anything wrong. She did. Rather, it is to illustrate that even a good parent can make a mistake that endangers a child. In the above case, the prosecution may paint a very different picture of Stacy. Over-dramatizing child endangerment cases is very effective for the prosecution. For this reason, it is crucial to work with a highly-experienced Boston criminal defense attorney if you have been charged with child endangerment or a similar crime. Common types of child endangerment include:
- OUI with a child in the vehicle
- Failure to properly secure a child in a moving vehicle (car seat, seat belt, etc.)
- Exposing a child to drug use, manufacturing, or distribution
- Failure to properly secure firearms in the presence of a child
- Leaving a young child without supervision
- Engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a child
The interesting thing about child endangerment laws is that they are intended to punish behavior that could harm a child, but a child doesn’t need to be harmed for a conviction to occur. For example, if loaded firearms are kept in reach of a child, the responsible adult could be convicted of child endangerment even the child never touched one of the firearms. Of course, cases involving actual harm will generally be punished more severely than those that do not result in injury. A MA defense attorney can help you protect your rights if you’ve been charged with child endangerment.
Intent is also considered when determining punishment in a child endangerment case. If the adult did not intend for the child to be exposed to the harmful situation, the penalties will likely be less severe than if he had. That being said, intent is not necessary to convict someone of child endangerment. As long as a reasonable person would have realized that the situation was dangerous, that is generally enough to convict. For example, leaving a young child in a car unattended can be a form of child endangerment. However, leaving a child in an air-conditioned car for five minutes is very different from leaving a child in a hot car for 45 minutes. In the first scenario, a reasonable person wouldn’t necessarily consider the situation to be dangerous, whereas most reasonable people would find the second scenario to be dangerous.
Penalties for Child Endangerment
Child endangerment can be punished as a misdemeanor or a felony. If you are convicted of child endangerment, you may be facing the following penalties:
- Misdemeanor charges: Up to one year in jail and up to $1,000 in fines.
- Felony charges: Between one and 10 years in prison, and up to $10,000 or more in fines.
In both cases, parental rights may be impacted. If the charges are particularly serious, the court may strip the parent or parents of their parental rights. When this occurs, the child will either go with the other parent or a grandparent, or the child may end up in foster care until a permanent situation can be determined.
Altman & Altman, LLP – Criminal Defense Lawyers Serving All of MA
If you have been charged with any type of crime, the skilled legal team at Altman & Altman, LLP can help. We have been protecting the rights of individuals charged with criminal offenses for more than 50 years. Our experienced, compassionate attorneys understand that even good people make mistakes. Don’t go through this difficult time alone. Contact Altman & Altman, LLP today for a free and confidential consultation about your case.