Facing false allegations of child abuse can harm an individual’s reputation in the community and his or her career, as well as cause financial strain. Such accusations may also lead to possible criminal charges. These are serious allegations that require the experience of an attorney accustomed to litigating abuse cases.
If you’ve been wrongfully accused, your first action should be to contact an attorney that can assist you in fighting these charges. The criminal defense team at Berry Law has successfully represented a number of clients who were facing false accusations of child abuse or neglect. Hiring an attorney protects your rights and ensures someone is looking out for your interests.
Why Do False Child Abuse Allegations Occur?
There are generally two types of abuse allegations that give rise to false accusations. One is done maliciously, while the other is done with good intentions, but may arise from a misunderstanding.
Nebraska state law requires any person who has reason to believe that a child has been abused or neglected to report concerns to the Nebraska Child Abuse and Neglect hotline. Sometimes another well-meaning adult witnesses an innocent interaction between parent and child, misconstrues the meaning of something a young child tells them, or misidentifies an accident as abuse and makes a report to the proper authorities for investigation. In these cases, that adult is generally acting out of concern and out of a legal obligation to make a report.
In other situations, a spouse, former spouse or co-parent accuses the other parent of abusing their child or children. False accusations against parents are common during divorce or custody cases because the accusing parent believes that it will give them the upper hand in divorce or child custody proceedings. The accuser may then petition the court for full custody of minor children and ask for a restraining order against the accused.
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What Constitutes Child Abuse in the State of Nebraska?
Parents have the right to discipline their children within reasonable limits. Physical discipline, such as spanking, is not considered abuse as long as it doesn’t cause bodily injury to a child. When discipline crosses the line of causing physical harm, or when accusations of sexual misconduct are made, the state will investigate the situation to determine if abuse is occurring.
physical abuse is defined as non-accidental infliction of injury or an act that poses a substantial likelihood of bodily injury to a child. Even in cases where the adult didn’t intend to harm the child, if an injury occurred, the incident will be investigated as abuse.
Unreasonable confinement is a type of physical abuse that involves disciplining a child by tying them up using ropes, duct tape, chains, or other restraints with the intention of keeping them in place.
Cruel punishments, such as withholding food or water or failing to provide the appropriate amounts of either, forcing a child to eat non-food items, failing to provide required care, or the use of sadistic measures or weapons are also forms of physical abuse when they result in injury or physical harm.
Emotional abuse is a pattern of criticizing, rejecting, insulting, isolating, terrorizing, or humiliating a child that results in serious emotional or behavioral issues. Telling a child that he or she is worthless or repeatedly berating them for age-appropriate behaviors are examples of emotional abuse.
Parents may also be charged with abuse if there is a history of domestic violence in the household. In cases where children have witnessed the use of control and fear in their parents’ relationship through violence or other forms of abuse, the court may cite emotional harm in any decision it makes.
Neglect includes a failure to provide for a child’s basic needs, such as clothing, shelter, medical care, supervision, and a safe and sanitary living environment. Abandonment is a form of neglect that occurs when a parent intentionally decides not to care for a child with no intent to resume his or her parental responsibility.
The court may also consider educational neglect in its definition of abuse if a parent has failed to access an appropriate educational program and assured his or her child’s regular attendance. Educational neglect in Nebraska applies to children at least six years of age, but younger than 13.
Often, neglect is the result of a parent’s substance abuse issue. If an addicted parent voluntarily chooses to seek out help for his or her addiction, the court may take that into consideration in decisions involving minor children.
Child Sexual Abuse
Child sexual abuse includes sexual touching, fondling, or intercourse between a minor child and an adult. Exploitation of a child occurs in cases of sex trafficking or in the production and distribution of child pornography.
Most cases of child abuse are handled in state civil or criminal courts unless the case involves extreme violence or crossed over state lines. Nebraska Statute 28-707 says that child abuse has occurred when a person knowingly, intentionally, or negligently causes or allows a minor to be placed in a situation that endangers his or her life or physical or mental health. The statute also outlines how child abuse is charged in the state of Nebraska.
Cases of child sexual abuse, trafficking, and child pornography are typically charged under Federal law. The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) of 2010 defines child abuse as a recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker, which results in the death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse, or exploitation of a minor child.
What Should I Do if I’ve Been Falsely Accused of Abusing a Child?
The penalties for child abuse convictions can be severe and include imprisonment, fines, and mandatory registration on the Child Abuse Register and/or the Sexual Offender Registry. Registration can disqualify a person from living in certain types of housing or neighborhoods and limit their future employment and educational opportunities.
If you’ve been accused of abusing a child, a social worker from the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) or law enforcement will want to talk to you. Avoid making any statements regarding the accusations against you without having an attorney present.
The investigator will likely conduct a safety assessment of your home to determine whether or not the child is safe there. During the investigation you have the right to the following information:
- Notification of the allegations against you
- The outcome of any assessments conducted
- The expectations of DHHS regarding what needs to be done to have an ongoing case closed
In the event that a court case is opened, be sure to attend all scheduled hearings and follow any instructions given by the court. Keep detailed records of any phone calls, interviews, or conversations that occur regarding the allegations of abuse.
It’s also a good idea to list any possible character witnesses who would have knowledge of the accused individual’s parenting abilities. This could include relatives, friends, co-workers, or neighbors.
While it’s perfectly acceptable and even beneficial to cooperate with law enforcement, having your attorney present during questioning protects your civil liberties. Choose an attorney with experience dealing with child abuse cases. The court may appoint an attorney to the child or children involved as well. Called a Guardian ad Litem, this person’s job is to represent the interests of the minor children. Keep in mind that the court’s main goal is to ensure the wellbeing of the child or children involved.
What are Some Defenses Against Child Abuse Allegations in Nebraska?
Only an attorney can review your particular situation and suggest a possible defense strategy, but here are some commonly used defenses against false child abuse allegations:
Lack of Evidence/Unfounded Charges
In a child abuse case, the burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove that abuse has occurred. In the absence of physical evidence, it may become a situation where one person’s word is pitted against the other’s.
The defense may work to shift the burden of proof of abuse onto the accuser, discrediting false allegations and casting doubt on the prosecution’s case. They may present a possible ulterior motive of the accuser for making such allegations.
Without proof that a crime has been committed, charges may be dropped.
Parents’ Right to Discipline
This defense uses the state’s own admission that parents have the right to discipline their children in a reasonable manner. If the allegations, such as spanking, are found to be within those rights, the charges may be dropped and the case dismissed.
Cultural, Religious, or Environmental Factors
If a client’s actions and inactions are a result of poverty, differing cultural or community standards, or deeply held religious beliefs, an attorney may attempt to discredit the allegations that abuse has occurred at all.
For example, a parent who has been accused of neglect may have given their child all of the food they could afford to provide them.
A no causation defense attempts to prove that any injuries a child did sustain were the result of something other than an abusive parent or caretaker. This could include a fall from a piece of playground equipment or other accident causing bodily harm.