4th Degree Child Abuse: Everything You Need to Know
The mention of child abuse brings to mind a monster in a dark dungeon inflicting harm on a child. While that could be true to some extent, some forms of child abuse may be subtle. With that said, even the most seemingly harmless of actions can cause long-lasting psychological effects on a child.
As a result, Michigan laws on child abuse cases are very stringent, carrying consequences of life in prison, upon conviction, and a permanent criminal record. Besides possible prison time, convicted child abusers will have to live with their names being listed on the Michigan Child Abuse Central Registry.
This is why you need to seek the help of an experienced child abuse attorney, if you are facing a child abuse charge in Michigan, in order to minimize the chances of a possible conviction.
MICHIGAN CHILD ABUSE LAWS
According to the Michigan Department of Human Services, child abuse refers to the physical or emotional harm or threatened harm to a child’s health or physical well-being by a person, knowingly or intentionally. This person can be the child’s parent, guardian, teacher, teacher’s aide, clergy, or any other person responsible for the child’s welfare.
Michigan law splits child abuse offenses into four different degrees:
- Fourth degree child abuse
- Third degree child abuse
- Second degree child abuse
- First degree child abuse
This classification is based on whether the offense causes harm to a child and the circumstances of the crime, with first degree child abuse being the severest form of child abuse and the fourth degree being the least severe.
This guide focuses on fourth degree child abuse, including its definition, penalties, defense strategies, other forms of sexual abuse offenses, and everything in between.
4th Degree Child Abuse
According to MCL 750.136b(7), a person shall be guilty of fourth degree child abuse if:
- The person’s reckless act or omission results in physical harm to a child
- The person knowingly engages in conduct that poses an unreasonable risk of physical harm to a minor regardless of whether harm results from their conduct
FOURTH DEGREE CHILD ABUSE DEFINITIONS
- Omission: as defined under MCL 750.136b(1)(c), refers to willful failure to provide a child with food, shelter, and clothing, of which are necessary for a child’s welfare, or willful abandonment of a child
- Physical harm: as defined under MCL 750.136b(1)(e), means any injury inflicted on a child’s physical condition that impacts the child’s physical health
- Child: refers to a person aged below 18 and is still legally under the control of a parent or guardian, per MCL 750.136b(1)(a)
The crime of fourth degree child abuse is the only child abuse offense that has no requirement that the act is intentionally directed at the child. The only requirement is that the conduct indicates recklessness or unreasonable risk of harm to a minor.
FOURTH DEGREE CHILD ABUSE PENALTIES
While the charge of fourth degree child abuse is the least severe form of child abuse charges, it can still result in jail time, upon conviction. According to MCL 750.136b(7), a fourth degree child abuse conviction is a misdemeanor punishable with less than one year in jail, for a first-time offender. A second time and consequent conviction will also result in a misdemeanor punishable with a maximum of two years prison time.
Four a judge to impose enhanced sentencing on a third degree child abuse charge, or any other degree of child abuse offense, the existence of prior conviction must be brought to the court’s attention from the prosecution by being included on the complaint and information. The judge will then set a separate hearing to determine the existence of prior offenses, in the absence of the jury.
When proving the existence of prior offenses, the prosecution relies on:
- A copy of previous judgments and convictions
- Transcripts of prior trials, pre-trial, or sentencing
- The defendant’s statement
A prior conviction not only covers the offenses under MCL 750.136b, but extends to cover convictions with similar offenses in different jurisdictions. In other words, a conviction of child abuse in any state in America would be considered a prior conviction when seeking enhanced sentencing, as long as the prosecution can prove their existence with evidence.
MICHIGAN CHILD ABUSE AND NEGLECT CENTRAL REGISTRY
Besides jail time, convicted child offenders are also subjected to child offender registration in the Michigan Child Abuse and Neglect Central Registry.
The Michigan Child Abuse and Neglect Central Registry is, in many ways, like the Michigan Sex Offender Registry due to the need to register if convicted and the infomation that is listed for each offender. According to the Child Protection Services (CPS), a person is placed on the registry if there is sufficient evidence to prove that the person has abused or neglected children. The belief is that there is a high chance that they are likely to commit a similar offense in the future.
To determine the risk of a person being a repeat offender, CPS relies on a risk assessment tool that incorporates the data collected by the agency, along with the assigned case workers’ opinions. With that said, under some circumstances, certain classes of offenders can have their names entered in the child abuser registry without the need for assessment.
A good example of this is if a person is convicted of a sex offense. In such a case, they can automatically be placed on the Child Abuse Registry, even without committing any child abuse offense.
HOW DO I KNOW IF MY NAME IS ON THE REGISTRY?
Under normal circumstances, you should be able to know if your name is on the Child Abuse and Neglect Central Registry. This is primarily because CPS must notify the offender before placing their name on the registry.
A letter is typically sent to the offender. The letter, which is sent via certified mail or delivered in person by a CPS employee, will inform the defendant of:
- The listing of their name on the Child Abuse and Neglect Central Registry
- The reason for listing
- List of who has access to see their name
- The defendant’s right to have their case reviewed
- The defendant’s right to appeal the decision to be placed on the registry
- Instructions on filing an appeal
If you are listed as a child abuser and want to appeal the decision, you will need to talk to a skilled criminal defense attorney to help you with your case. If your name is on the registry and you have not been informed, you may also want to talk to a lawyer to help evaluate your case.
OTHER DEGREES OF CHILD ABUSE COMPARED TO FOURTH DEGREE CHILD ABUSE
FIRST DEGREE CHILD ABUSE
First degree child abuse offenses top the list of child abuse offenses in terms of severity of the harm to a child and its penalties.
As stipulated under MCL 750.136b(2), for a person to be convicted of a 1st degree child abuse charge, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knowingly or intentionally inflicted serious mental harm or serious physical harm to a child.
Upon a conviction of first degree child abuse, the offender will be guilty of a felony punishable by a prison time of any length, which can include life in prison.
As used under 750.136b(1)(e), serious physical harm is a physical injury inflicted on a child that causes significant impairment on their physical well-being.
Some examples of physical harm, deemed serious as stipulated in the law, include, but are not limited to:
- Brain damage
- Skull or bone fracture
- Subdural hemorrhage or hematoma
- Severe cut
- Burn or scald
- Internal injury
- Dislocation and sprains
As used in MCL 750.136b(1)(f), serious mental harm is an injury that affects a child’s mental condition or welfare.
The mental harm does not have to be necessarily permanent for a person to be charged with the offense. The only requirement for a first degree child abuse offense is that the mental harm results in visible manifestations of a substantial disorder in thought and mood that significantly impairs judgment, behavior, and ability to cope with life’s ordinary demands or the capacity to recognize reality.
SECOND DEGREE CHILD ABUSE
According to MCL 750.136b(3), for a person to be convicted of a second degree child abuse charge, any of the following must exist:
- A person’s omission results in serious mental harm or serious physical harm to a child
- A person’s reckless act results in serious mental harm or serious physical harm to a child
- The person knowingly engages in a cruel act to a child, whether harm results from the conduct or not
- The person is a licensee; a licensee is any person permitted and licensed under the law to run a child welfare organization
A conviction of second degree child abuse is a felony punishable by not more than 10 years in prison. For a repeat offense, a conviction of 2nd degree child abuse means the offender will be guilty of a felony punishable by not more than 20 years in prison.
THIRD DEGREE CHILD ABUSE
Third degree child abuse is the second least severe form of child abuse, after fourth degree child abuse. For a defendant to be convicted of a third degree child abuse offense, any of the following circumstances must exist:
- The person knowingly or willfully inflicts physical harm to a child
- The person knowingly engages in a reckless act or conduct that at the time of committing the offense poses an unreasonable risk of physical harm to the child and that their actions result in physical harm
A 3rd degree child abuse conviction is a felony punishable by a prison term of not more than two years, for first-time offenders. For second or consecutive offenses, the offender will be guilty of a felony punishable by a maximum of five years in prison.
This offense is similar to fourth degree child abuse in that it involves an aspect of unreasonable risk on the part of the defendant’s conduct, but differs in the fact that the conduct has to result in harm.
Currently, the Child Abuse and Neglect Central Registry is not accessible to the public. However, that will change soon when an already Senate-approved piece of legislation, referred to as Wyatt Law, becomes operational.
Wyatt’s Law gets its name from a boy who, in 2013, at the age of one, was a victim of child abuse at the hands of his father’s girlfriend and suffered a severe brain hemorrhage. Thankfully the boy recovered, and the accused was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
The commission of this offense brought to light the ineffectiveness of the Child Abuse and Neglect Central Registry in that it is not efficient in identifying and making the public aware of convicted child abusers before entrusting them with their children. According to the Macomb County records, the offender had two prior convictions of child abuse offenses that had resulted in probation each time.
COMPUTERIZED CHILD ABUSE AND NEGLECT CENTRAL REGISTRY
The Wyatt Law aims to create a computerized database of convicted child abusers. Like the Michigan Sex Offender Registry, the bill seeks to create two separate registries – one that is accessible to the public from a public website, and the other private, only accessible by law enforcement, the courts, and any other persons allowed by law to have access to the information.
Information to be displayed in the public registry includes:
- The offender’s name, including any aliases, nicknames, tribal or ethnic names, or any other name that the offender is known by
- Date of birth
- Current addresses
- A summary of all past child abuse offense charges, even those they were acquitted of
- Information on the offense which lead to the listing
The information to be displayed on the private registry shall include all the details on the public registry, and:
- The victim’s identity
- The offender’s social security number
- The driving license and legal ID numbers
- Their instant messaging and email addresses, including their login credentials
- The offender’s immigration and travel documents
FOURTH DEGREE CHILD SEX ABUSE DEFENSE
Hiring a skilled criminal defense attorney will help you explore all the available defense arguments, including:
RESPONSE TO DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Suppose a child engages in domestic violence directed to you or other family members. In that case, the law allows the use of reasonable force to restrain the minor in an effort to defend yourself or others in your homestead from harm by an unruly child. If your child abuse offense arises from domestic violence circumstances, your lawyer can use the “response to domestic violence” as a defense.
AN ACT OF DISCIPLINING A CHILD
Parents have the right to discipline their children. With that said, the kind of discipline used must be reasonable. Using “parental discipline” as a defense strategy may best apply to an offense like a fourth degree child abuse charge, where the allegations are less severe.
False allegations of child abuse, including criminal sexual conduct (csc degrees) directed at children, are very common. Just because a child says it happened doesn’t mean it actually did.
Unfortunately, it will take a solid defense to sway the jurors from believing the child’s word against believing yours. Due to this fact, it is imperative you hire a lawyer who has experience handling child abuse cases.
LET CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY NICOLE BLANK BECKER HANDLE YOUR CASE
If you are under investigation for child abuse in Michigan, or anywhere within the United States, you need to have the best child abuse lawyer by your side. Nicole Blank Becker of Blank Law, PC is an experienced criminal defense attorney based in Michigan with a lengthy experience in child abuse law.
In over 20 years of practice, Nicole has served as the Chief of the Child Abuse Unit and the Chief of the Sex Crimes Unit in Macomb County, prior to going into private practice. Her experiences in these fields put her in a league of her own when it comes to child abuse charges and all criminal sexual conduct offenses.
Nicole will use her knowledge from both sides to aggressively fight for you. Additionally, Nicole understands the importance of the attorney-client relationship and aims to build a strong relationship with her clients to ensure that they do not feel stigmatized based on their charges.
To hire Nicole Blank Becker for your case, call Blank Law, PC, at (248) 515–6583 or fill out this online form to book your first free consultation and case evaluation with today.