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What are the Different Types of Child Abuse and Penalties?

Being accused of child abuse as a parent can be scary, especially when it is untrue. Not only do you have to deal with being investigated by Child Protective Services, but you risk losing access to your child, a prison sentence, and being registered as a perpetrator.

Blank Law, PC is a top criminal defense law firm based in Michigan. We guide our clients on the types of child abuse, provisions of Michigan criminal law, and the best defense strategies for their child maltreatment cases.

Different Types of Child Abuse

Defining which actions amount to abuse can sometimes be challenging. According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, child abuse and neglect describe an act or failure to act on the part of a parent or guardian, resulting in serious emotional or physical harm, child sexual abuse or exploitation, or death.

Child maltreatment refers to acts of physical violence, psychological maltreatment, sexual abuse, and neglect of a child resulting in mental or physical harm. It occurs when parents or caregivers fail to meet a child’s basic physical, social, and emotional needs.

Such abuse can have a long-term effect on the child’s health and overall well-being. It could also affect the child’s life permanently. In addition, the child’s behavior may become unstable.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that the actions that may be considered abusive to a child may be grouped into four types of child abuse. They include:

  • Physical abuse
  • Child neglect
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse

What Actions are Considered Physical Child Abuse?

According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, physical abuse is one of the most common types of childhood abuse. It is considered physical abuse when a person deliberately causes bodily harm to a child.

Physical abuse includes slapping, pushing, hitting, kicking, burning, misusing medication, drowning, and suffocating. It also has injuries like shaken baby syndrome, bone fractures, or internal injury.

False imprisonment or inappropriately restraining a young child may also be considered physical abuse, especially if the child sustains an injury. Physical abuse is usually intentional, meaning the perpetrator intended to cause physical harm to the child.

How is Child Neglect Different from Physical Abuse?

Child neglect refers to a parent or guardian’s ongoing failure to meet their child’s basic needs, such as adequate shelter, food, and clothing, as well as the child’s emotional and social needs. Also, it would be considered neglect when the parent fails to provide adequate supervision. In addition, emotional neglect occurs when the child’s feelings are consistently invalidated and the parent refuses to respond appropriately to the child’s needs.

What Actions are Classified as Child Sexual Abuse in Michigan?

Sexual abuse occurs when one forces, entices, or pressures a child into performing sexual acts. The sexual acts include sexual penetration, fondling, or any other activity of a sexual nature. Sexual abuse includes statutory rape, molestation, child pornography, prostitution, and sexual exploitation for another person’s gratification.

Child sexual abuse may not involve excessive violence, and the child may not even be aware of the abuse. It is considered criminal sexual abuse between two minors, and it may also be committed by adult males and females. When a child is sexually abused, it affects the child’s sexual knowledge and behavior.

Is Emotional Child Abuse a Criminal Offense Under Michigan Criminal Law?

Emotional abuse is any behavior that can adversely affect a child’s self-esteem or mental health. It is also called psychological abuse. Emotional abuse includes bullying, name-calling, threatening, rejection, and shaming. Other examples of emotional abuse are a refusal to show affection and love, humiliating or yelling at a child, failure to maintain the child’s welfare, or incessant discouragement.

Emotional abuse is one of the least common types of child maltreatment, but it can adversely affect a child’s overall well-being and life. An emotionally abused child may develop mental health problems, including depression and suicide.

What are the Penalties for Child Maltreatment Under Michigan Criminal Law?

In Michigan, there are four degrees of abuse charges. Physical abuse, sexual abuse, child neglect, and emotional abuse fall under any of these four degrees:

●     1st Degree Child Abuse

●     2nd Degree Child Abuse

●     3rd Degree Child Abuse

●     4th Degree Child Abuse

Any person who abuses children faces harsh punishment under Michigan law. The severity of the penalty depends on the classification of the offense. First degree child abuse charges attract the cruelest punishment, while fourth degree child abuse charges attract the least severe punishment.

First degree child abuse is a felony, and so it is punished severely. It covers cases of severe bodily harm or physical injury to the child, such as shaken baby syndrome or abusive head trauma, dislocation, bone fracture, internal injury, poisoning, and sprain. Many cases of physical abuse are usually charged as first degree abuse.

Convicted offenders may be subjected to a maximum penalty of life imprisonment or any term of years at a state prison. They would also be required to maintain a criminal record with the Michigan Child Abuse and Neglect Central Registry as a perpetrator. If the victim is their child, the courts may terminate the parental rights and end their legal parent-child relationship.

Second degree child abuse is also a felony offense. It covers acts of omission or commission. When a person knowingly acts in such a way that would lead to harming a child, does any cruel act to a child, or causes mental or physical harm to a child due to their recklessness, it would be considered second degree child abuse.

Also, a person who deliberately fails to provide food, clothing, shelter, or a child’s basic necessities, which causes physical harm, would be charged with second degree abuse. Child neglect, emotional abuse, and sexual abuse fall under this degree of offense, too.

Anyone convicted of second degree abuse faces a maximum 10-year sentence if they are a first-time offender. For repeat offenders, the maximum penalty is 20 years in prison.

Third degree child abuse is another felony offense. It covers cases of abuse in which the child is deliberately physically or mentally injured. It does not cover accidental cases. When a child suffers a bruise, red mark, or other mild injuries, the person who knowingly inflicted such injury on the child may be charged with this degree of offense.

Cases of physical abuse fall under this degree. Where the prosecution cannot show that a case of physical abuse amounts to 1st degree abuse, the court would treat it as a 3rd degree abuse case. Convicted offenders may be given a maximum penalty of a 2-year prison sentence. They would also be required to register with the Child Abuse Registry.

Fourth degree child abuse is a misdemeanor. It covers cases where a person’s omission or recklessness results in a physical injury to a child. It is also considered 4th degree abuse when a person knowingly does an act that could cause damage to the child. It does not matter whether actual harm occurred or not.

It is punishable by a maximum jail term of one year for first offenders. For a subsequent offense, the offender may be punished with a prison term of up to two years.

Are There Legal Defenses Available Against Child Abuse Charges?

The consequences of a child maltreatment accusation are severe and sometimes long-lasting. So you need a qualified criminal defense attorney on your side to reduce the impact of the criminal charges. You can improve your chances of avoiding a conviction with the right attorney and an excellent defense strategy.

Several legal defenses are available to you in an abuse and neglect case. However, you need the top CPS lawyers in Michigan to guide you on the most suitable ones in your particular case. So you should hire a lawyer as soon as you can.

The most common defenses in child maltreatment cases include:

Parental Discipline

The law allows a reasonable measure of parental discipline. Therefore, parents, guardians, or other legally authorized people can reasonably discipline their children. The law also permits the use of reasonable physical force in the process. Therefore, parental discipline could be a valid legal defense in an abuse and neglect case.

However, parental discipline does not cover the use of excessive force or physical punishment resulting in a physical or mental injury to the child. The Child Welfare Information Gateway describes the difference between discipline and abuse.

Overcoming Substance Abuse

One of the core principles of our criminal justice system is that you must consciously commit a crime to be charged with one, and drug and alcohol use can impair one’s capacity for clear thinking. You might be able to argue for a lighter sentence if you can prove that drugs impaired your judgment during the commission of the crime. This defense is more effective if you already get treatment to overcome substance abuse.

False Allegations

If you can prove that you were falsely accused of abuse and neglect, it can eliminate the charges against you. You can prove your innocence with witness testimonies, video recordings, DNA evidence, or other available evidence.

How Attorney Nicole Blank Becker Can Help You in an Abuse Case

Facing abuse and neglect charges can be terrifying. You risk losing parental rights or access if it involves your own child. You may also be labeled as an abuser in your community. In addition, you face possible jail time, paying a hefty fine, or having to register as an offender.

Therefore, you need to hire an attorney once you are being investigated for abusing a child. The charges are often higher than the evidence supports in abuse cases. However, with the assistance of a seasoned criminal defense attorney, you can reduce the criminal charges against you or even get them dropped.

Attorney Nicole Blank Becker is a top criminal defense lawyer in Michigan. As a former chief of the Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Units in Macomb County, Michigan, Nicole understands the criminal justice system. She can effectively represent you in a child maltreatment case to obtain the best outcome.

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Nicole is always willing and ready to help you put up an aggressive defense. Once you schedule a Michigan criminal defense attorney free consultation with her, you can get started on defeating those criminal charges.