If you are charged with child abuse in Missouri, you must be represented and defended by a Jefferson County child abuse attorney. Child abuse is a heinous crime, but what constitutes child abuse in this state? And how can you prevail against a child abuse charge?
Keep reading, because these questions are about to be answered in this brief discussion of child abuse, your rights as a parent or guardian, and the law in the State of Missouri. You’ll learn how child abuse is legally defined, and you will also learn what defenses may be offered against the charge.
What Constitutes Child Abuse in Missouri?
Child abuse is a serious and growing concern in Missouri. In fiscal year 2020 (July 1, 2019 through June 30, 2020), the state’s Child Abuse/Neglect Hotline Unit received over 55,000 reports that involved over 78,000 children in Missouri.
Any act (or a failure to act) by a parent, a caregiver, or any other adult that puts a child (anyone under age 18) at imminent risk or causes serious harm to a child’s health and/or welfare may be considered child abuse or child neglect in the State of Missouri.
Under Missouri law, child abuse is the “infliction of physical, sexual, or mental injury against a child by any person eighteen years of age or older.” The law specifies that corporal punishment (spanking) “administered in a reasonable manner” does not constitute child abuse in this state.
Child neglect is defined as the “failure to provide, by those responsible for the care, custody, and control of a child under the age of eighteen years, the care reasonable and necessary to maintain the physical and mental health of the child.”
What Are Missouri’s Child Abuse Charges and Penalties?
Child abuse charges in Missouri are often filed as Class D felony charges, punishable upon conviction with up to seven years in a state prison and a fine of up to $10,000, with no possibility of parole for at least one year.
However, if a serious physical or emotional injury was inflicted on a child, the charge will be filed as a Class B felony, punishable upon conviction with five to fifteen years in a state prison and no possibility of parole for at least five years.
If the crime involved the sexual exploitation or abuse of a minor under 14 years old, or if the abuse resulted in a fatality, the child abuse charge will be a Class A felony, punishable upon conviction with ten to thirty years in prison and no chance of parole for at least fifteen years.
If you hold a professional license in Missouri, any felony conviction puts it at risk. If you’re not a U.S. citizen, a child abuse conviction may trigger a deportation proceeding. A conviction may also impair your ability to find employment or housing or to obtain loans or public assistance.
Could You Lose the Custody of Your Child?
Child neglect and child abuse cases in this state are also scrutinized by the Missouri Department of Social Services to decide if a parent should have the custody of his or her child terminated.
If a parent is convicted of child abuse, the state can revoke the custody of the child from that parent, and if necessary, place the child with relatives or in foster care. If custody is terminated, a parent may appeal the decision to the Child Abuse and Neglect Review Board.
If you are investigated by the Department of Social Services for a report of child neglect or abuse, even if you have not been charged with a crime, you will need sound legal advice, and you will probably also need to be represented by a Jefferson County child abuse lawyer.
Who Is a Mandatory Reporter?
Under Missouri Law, teachers, health care professionals, members of the clergy, first responders, and “any other person with the responsibility for the care of children” are “mandatory reporters” who must report suspected child neglect or abuse to the Missouri Department of Social Services.
The failure of a mandatory reporter to report an incident of suspected child neglect or abuse is a Class A misdemeanor, and filing a fabricated child neglect or abuse report is also a Class A misdemeanor, punishable upon conviction with up to a year in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,000.
What Defenses May Be Offered Against a Child Abuse Charge?
If you are accused of child abuse, after reviewing the details of the charge, a Jefferson County child abuse lawyer will develop an appropriate defense strategy.
There may be several child abuse defenses available depending on the circumstances of your particular case, including:
The charge against you is fabricated: False child abuse accusations are not uncommon. A Jefferson County child abuse attorney can aggressively counter-attack false allegations and work to uncover the truth about what happened – or what didn’t happen.
The child was injured or harmed in some other way: Your attorney may be able to prove – possibly with testimony from eyewitnesses or a doctor – that you were not responsible for the injury that happened to your child.
You were acting within your rights as a parent: Parents are generally free in the State of Missouri to discipline their children as they see fit, provided that the discipline is reasonable and causes no emotional or bodily injury to the child.
The abuser injured the child to gain attention and suffers from Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy: This is basically an insanity defense. Your attorney would have to compile medical evidence and ask an expert witness to offer a statement or testify on your behalf.
What Else Do Parents Need to Know About Child Abuse?
Especially if you are falsely accused of neglecting or abusing your child, you must be defended by an attorney who has successfully dealt with fabricated abuse allegations against previous clients. If the custody of your child is at stake, nothing is more important.
As soon as you suspect or learn that you are being investigated for child abuse or neglect by a police agency or by the Missouri Department of Social Services, contact a Missouri child abuse lawyer at once.
You don’t have to talk to the Department of Social Services or the police, and if you do, anything you say could be used against you. Let your lawyer do the talking on your behalf. Having a good attorney’s help is the right of every parent or guardian who is accused of child abuse or neglect.