Is Child Abuse a Felony?
Being accused of or arrested for child abuse in Michigan is a serious crime and comes with potentially serious consequences. Protecting your rights requires you to get in touch with an attorney right away. Learning more about the child abuse laws in Michigan and your rights can also help you in this situation.
In the state of Michigan, child abuse laws are defined by degrees. The most serious child abuse charge you can face is 1st degree child abuse. If convicted, you may face life in prison.
What Must be Proven in Michigan Child Abuse Cases?
If you are facing child abuse charges in Michigan, it is the prosecutor who must prove the following things without a reasonable doubt to secure a conviction:
- The defendant is the guardian or parent of the alleged victim
- The defendant had custody when the abuse occurred (this is true without respect to how long the child was cared for, in the custody of, or under the authority of the defendant)
- The defendant intentionally or knowingly harmed the child in a serious and physical manner
- The defendant caused serious mental harm that impacted the victim’s mental condition or caused visible signs of impairment
- The child was under the age of 18 when the abuse occurred
In this situation, the term “serious physical” refers to any physical injury that impairs the child’s physical well–being or health.
Is Child Abuse a Felony?
Let’s learn more about child abuse charges in Michigan and the penalties a conviction may bring.
Understanding Michigan’s Child Abuse Laws
When you are charged with child abuse, it is important that you don’t talk to the police. Get in touch with a Michigan criminal defense lawyer immediately. Everything you say to the police can be used against you to get a conviction, and there is nothing more damaging to a child abuse case than your own words.
Even if you deny the child abuse charges against you, and that is all you say to the police, they may twist your words and use them against you. By staying silent, you don’t have to worry about this happening.
First Degree Child Abuse Charges
As mentioned above, the most serious child abuse charges you can face in Michigan are first degree child abuse charges.
Some examples of injuries resulting from serious bodily injury or physical abuse that occurs and results in these child abuse charges include:
- Brain damage
- Severe cuts
- Bone or skull fractures
- Scald or burn
- Subdural hemorrhage or hematoma
- Internal injury
If you are convicted of these charges, you will likely be sentenced to time in State Prison. The maximum sentence is “LIFE or any term of years.” It also means you will be put on the Michigan Child Abuse and Neglect Central Registry. Inclusion on this list makes you known as a “perpetrator,” too.
Charges of first degree child abuse are felonies and, as a result, come with the most serious consequences.
Second Degree Child Abuse Charges
A 2nd degree child abuse charge is also considered felony child abuse. This is also a very serious charge and nothing to take lightly. It is considered a complex felony and can be the charge you face if any of the three elements are present:
- If you intentionally or knowingly acted in a manner that would likely lead to the harm of a child
- If you acted recklessly and caused physical or mental harm
- If you intentionally or knowingly committed a cruel act (may include inhuman corporal punishment or similar cause of a physical injury)
With second degree child abuse charges, the situation may be an act of omission or an act of commission. This includes your willful failure to provide shelter, clothing, or food to a child for their basic human rights and welfare (also called child neglect), which results in physical harm. It may also be the charge you face if you commit an act that will cause serious mental or physical harm to the child (i.e. sexual abuse).
If you are convicted of this charge, you will likely receive a jail sentence and spend time in State Prison. For this charge, the maximum prison sentence is 10 years for a first-time offender, and up to 20 years for a repeat offender.
Third Degree Child Abuse Charges
Another one of the felony child abuse charges, 3rd degree child abuse, occurs when you intentionally or knowingly cause mental or physical harm to a child victim. Third degree charges are the most charged felony child abuse cases. It is more serious than misdemeanor child abuse charges and usually easy for the prosecution to prove.
The mental state in this situation does not require malice. Also, knowingly means that the actions were not accidental. Based on the broad definitions used in Michigan statutes, almost any type of mental or physical harm can be considered abuse. This includes tenderness, a bruise, or a red mark.
If you are convicted of these felony child abuse charges, the criminal penalties include a maximum prison sentence of up to two years. You will also be listed on the Michigan Child Abuse and Neglect Central Registry and considered a perpetrator.
Fourth Degree Child Abuse Charges
This is the only child abuse case that is charged as a misdemeanor. The only difference between these charges and a felony child abuse charge is the potential penalties you will face. The criminal penalties for 4th degree child abuse include up to one year in prison. Usually, the charges will be levied if you have no criminal history or the evidence against you is weak.
In this situation, to achieve a conviction, the prosecutors must prove that you, by omission or act, caused some physical harm to a child. There is no need to prove there was an injury or any malice in the situation. While the state must establish these elements beyond a reasonable doubt, the facts are not hard to prove.
Usually, these types of cases will be settled without going to court. Also, the settlement usually includes a remediation plan (especially when facing misdemeanor rather than felony child abuse charges). This plan often includes anger management and parenting classes, fees, and potentially other types of program requirements. If you complete the required programs immediately, the prosecution may consider dismissing the charges completely.
Child Pornography or Child Sexually Abusive Materials
Child sexually abusive material or child pornography is illegal under federal and state law. It refers to any video footage or image of a child in a sexual situation or taking part in sexual conduct. Examples include passive sexual involvement, erotic nudity, sexual penetration, masturbation, or fondling.
If you are convicted of child pornography, the specific crime determines the punishment. In Michigan, there are several child porn-related crimes, including:
- Possession (keeping or having it)
- Distribution (selling or sharing it)
- Producing (making it)
Each of these comes with a serious felony child abuse charge.
Child Endangerment Charges
Child endangerment charges refer to any action or behavior that puts a child in direct danger of physical or mental impairment or bodily injury. It may also lead to death. Usually, this charge accompanies a DUI. This occurs if someone is caught driving while intoxicated with a minor in their vehicle.
In Michigan, this is called an OWI Child Endangerment charge. For a first offense, this is a misdemeanor that is punishable by up to one year in prison and $1,000 in fines. If you are charged for a second time, it is a felony charge and comes with fines of up to $5,000. The law in Michigan allows the judge over the case to determine the proper incarceration penalty for these charges.
Child Neglect Charges
In these situations, it is possible to face criminal charges. However, it may also be a civil case if handled through Child Protective Services. If this happens, then the case will be seen in family court. If the police are involved in the situation at some point, it will be handled in criminal and, sometimes, civil courts simultaneously. In severe situations, the children may be taken from the parents and parental rights terminated. However, parents must attend substance abuse or parenting classes in other situations.
Potential Defenses to Child Abuse Charges
If you face child abuse charges, it is important to find and hire a reputable and experienced criminal defense attorney. Developing an attorney-client relationship is imperative to building a viable defense for these cases.
Self-Defense Claims in Child Abuse Situations
A possible defense that may apply to your situation is self-defense. This is a defense to almost all crimes that are committed today. Another is parental discipline. If you choose self-defense, you must prove it with evidence. For cases of child abuse, it is required that your evidence show the jury that the conduct was a reasonable response to domestic violence. If this defense applies to your case, and your evidence proves what you claim, you may receive a verdict of “not guilty.”
Your Rights when Facing Child Abuse Charges in Michigan
It can be a scary and overwhelming situation if you are facing child abuse charges in Michigan. If you are convicted, it can impact your life in many ways and may even result in losing parental rights to your children.
After being accused or arrested for child abuse, getting in touch with criminal defense attorney Nicole Blank Becker is highly recommended. Having a strong, experienced lawyer on your site is your best chance of achieving the desired outcome for your case. She will gather evidence and work to reduce the charges you are facing and, in some cases, have them dismissed altogether.
Contact an Experienced Child Abuse Defense Attorney for Assistance
The criminal penalties for a felony child abuse charge or misdemeanor child abuse charge are extensive. This is why it is imperative that you contact an experienced criminal defense attorney right away to help with your child abuse case. Attorney Nicole Blank Becker of Blank Law, PC has years of experience fighting against a child abuse conviction and can provide you with experienced representation for your case.
Make sure to call for legal representation before talking to the police to protect yourself from saying something that may be used against you. To get in touch and schedule a Michigan criminal defense attorney free consultation, call or text (248) 515-6583, 24-hours a day, seven days a week. You can also reach out via email on our website.