Penalties for Child Abuse Convictions

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Facing child abuse or neglect charges can lead to embarrassment, damage to personal relationships, financial strain, and loss of employment, even if the accusations are later proved to be unfounded. Due to the high-profile nature of abuse cases involving children and the press that typically surrounds them, it can feel like there’s no winning in the court of public opinion.

If you’ve been unfairly accused of the abuse or neglect of a child, call on an experienced defense attorney at Berry Law to help restore your good name and preserve your freedom. They can explain your rights and help you defend yourself against false allegations.

What Constitutes Abuse or Neglect?

Child abuse and neglect can include physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, abandonment, and sexual abuse or sexual assault. The law recognizes the rights of parents to discipline their children, but sometimes physical discipline enters a grey area. When physical discipline crosses a line, parents can be charged with abuse, especially in situations where a minor child is harmed or endangered.

Under Nebraska Statute 28-707, child abuse occurs 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. Being cruelly confined or punished for perceived wrongdoing crosses the line between a parent’s right to discipline their child and abuse.

Emotional abuse is defined as placing a minor child in a situation that endangers his or her mental health, either knowingly, intentionally, or negligently. Sometimes the parent that is not accused of direct abuse can still be held responsible in situations where they don’t intervene on a child’s behalf as a witness to the abuse.

Neglect falls under the umbrella of child abuse in the state of Nebraska as well, and occurs when a child is deprived of necessities like food, clothing, shelter or care. Nebraska law also defines leaving a child aged six or younger unattended in a motor vehicle. While neglect is illegal, there are cases in which neglect is found to be nonintentional, but instead is a result of poverty, varying community standards, or cultural differences.

Child abandonment is addressed under Nebraska Statute 28-705 to include situations where a parent or guardian abandons or neglects to provide for his or her child or a dependent stepchild for three consecutive months or more. This is considered evidence of the intent to commit abandonment, which is a chargeable offense.

Any sexual interaction with a minor by an adult is considered sexual abuse or molestation. Child sexual assault is a form of child abuse, regardless of whether the minor willingly participated or not. This is because the state of Nebraska recognizes 16 as the legal age of consent for sex.

A defendant in a sexual assault case doesn’t even necessarily have to have had direct physical contact with an alleged victim, as in the case of child pornography or sex trafficking charges. Sexual abuse is defined under Nebraska law as placing a child in a situation where he or she is sexually abused, trafficked, or exploited. Allowing a child to engage in public indecency or obscene or pornographic photography or films, or to engage in sex trafficking or prostitution through encouragement or force all fall under child abuse. Some other common charges in sexual abuse cases include the following:

  • Sexual exploitation is the victimization of a child by exploiting them for prostitution or trafficking purposes for financial gain.
  • Sexual grooming or child solicitation charges are levied when there’s reason to believe that a defendant manipulated a child to make it more likely that he or she would participate in sexual activity.
  • Molestation from a family member is typically referred to as incest.
  • Sex between an adult and a minor is known as statutory rape.

It is possible to be charged with more than one type of child abuse. The state of Nebraska requires mandatory reporting by anyone who even has cause to believe that a child has been subjected to child abuse or neglect, including teachers and daycare providers, medical personnel, clergy, mental health professionals, and others in a position to work with minors.

What Happens When a Report is Made?

Reports of abuse and neglect can either be made to local law enforcement or to Child Protective Services (CPS). When law enforcement is notified of potential abuse, police are responsible for investigating the allegations. When a report is made to CPS, the agency assigns a caseworker to investigate.

CPS is legally obligated to investigate all allegations of child abuse and neglect reported to them. The agency’s job is to determine whether or not allegations are true. If a caseworker determines that the household a minor is living in is unsafe for the child, the agency will remove the child from the home and place them in a safe environment. Depending on the situation, CPS may not remove a child, but instead work with the child’s family on a plan to keep them safely in the family home.

Parents or guardians may be required to appear before a judge as well. The goal of the court is to help resolve issues that led to the CPS report being filed and eventually reunite children with their parents. In some cases, charges may be filed in criminal court.

What’s the Difference Between State and Federal Charges of Child Abuse?

Child abuse and neglect cases are typically handled at the state level in civil and criminal courts, unless the case involves extreme violence, or in cases where an adult crossed state lines with a minor. Then the case may be assigned to the federal court system.

The federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) of 2010 defines child abuse under federal law as a recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker, which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation of a minor child. Adults can also be charged if they put a minor in a situation that presents imminent risk of serious harm to a minor under 18 or otherwise emancipated.

Child sexual abuse, sex trafficking of minors and child pornography charges are governed for the most part under federal law. The statutory privilege that a court normally offers between doctors and their patients, clients and their therapists, and between spouses doesn’t apply to child abuse cases or excuse a refusal to provide testimony.

What are the Penalties for Child Abuse or Neglect in Nebraska?

If convicted of child abuse or neglect in the state of Nebraska, the penalties are typically based on two factors. The first is whether the defendant knowingly and intentionally engaged in the abuse or neglect, or did so unknowingly and negligently. The second is whether or not the child suffered serious personal injury or death.

In legal terms, negligence refers to criminal negligence where an adult knew or should have known of the danger involved in a situation in which they placed a minor child and acted recklessly with respect to his or her safety or health.

The penalties for child abuse and neglect can include imprisonment, fines, and other consequences. In cases where it’s found that a defendant was simply negligent and the child didn’t sustain serious bodily injuries or die, the offense is considered a Class I misdemeanor.

When the offense is committed knowingly and intentionally and doesn’t result in the bodily injury or death of a child, or if the abuse was committed negligently and does result in bodily injury, then the defendant is charged with a Class IIIA felony.

In cases that involve the death of a child where the defendant is found to be negligent, he or she is guilty of a Class IIA felony. The penalties for knowingly and intentionally causing the death of a child due to abuse or neglect are a Class IB felony. Child abuse that is intentional and results in serious bodily injury to a child, but not death, is a Class II felony.

Defendants who are convicted of child abuse are required to register on the Child Abuse Register, a database of abuse cases against minors that potential employers may have access to for years to come. This can make finding or keeping jobs working with vulnerable populations, such as minors, people with disabilities or senior citizens difficult.

What are Common Defenses Against Child Abuse Charges?

A person accused of child abuse or neglect has the right to refuse to speak to law enforcement until he or she can consult with their attorney. They also have the right to a fair trial, regardless of public perception or opinion.

An experienced criminal defense attorney at Berry Law can review your case and suggest the best defense for your situation. The burden of proof in a case is on the prosecutor, who must show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant either purposely or negligently caused harm to the child in question.

An attorney may attempt to cast doubt on a prosecutor’s case by showing that the harm to the child was accidental or that the accusations are altogether false. Some common examples of defenses against child abuse and neglect charges include the following:

  • No Causation- If the defense can show evidence that the harm done to the child was the result of something other than abuse, such as a brittle bone condition or accident, the charges may be dropped.
  • Environmental Factors- In cases of neglect, a defense attorney could argue that the defendant’s actions or inaction were a direct result of poverty, differing community standards or cultural or religious differences.
  • Right to Discipline- Depending on the nature of the charges, the defense may call upon the state’s own admission that parents have the right to discipline their children. If evidence can be shown that the allegations were within those rights, a crime hasn’t been committed.
  • Lack of Evidence- Since the prosecution is responsible for proving that abuse occurred, a lack of evidence could result in dropped charges.

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