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Felony Child Endangerment

UPDATED: February 20, 2013

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Felony child endangerment is a child endangerment charge enhanced by aggravating circumstances. Child endangerment occurs when a person engages in conduct that places a child in immininet danger of death, bodily injury, or physical or mental impairment. This can be through an act or omission. Read on to learn more about felony child endangerment, the possible defensive strategies, and some of the consequences of a felony child endangerment charge.

What is Felony Child Endangerment?

For child endangerment to be elevated to a felony level offense, states will look to two different aggravating factors. The first aggravating factor is intent. Child endangerment charges factor in that people can make mistakes. If the conduct by a defendant was merely negligent or reckless, he would only face a misdemeanor level of punishment. If his conduct was willful or intentional, then the defendant could face felony endangerment charges.

The second aggravating factor is the degree of risk: the higher the risk, the higher the charge. California and Ohio for example, will increase the charge when the risk is likely to produce great bodily harm or death. Some states also increase a child endangerment charge when the child endures mental suffering. A risk of physical injury is not required. Some risks are presumed by statute. For example, if a defendant consumes controlled substances while in the presence of a child or drives with a child while intoxicated, some states will presume that the child was in some immediate danger of serious injury or death. Understanding the level of proof required for these elements is critical to developing an effective defensive theory.

Defenses to a Felony Child Endangerment Charge

Most states will make some exceptions for reasonable discipline. What is reasonable will turn on all of the facts surrounding the risk. The reasonable discipline defense tends to be more difficult to utilize when a child is placed in a higher degree of risk. As such, the better defensive theory usually involves negating the intent or degree of risk elements. For example, if a defendant can show that his conduct was merely negligent or reckless, he could obtain a reduction in charges from a felony child endangerment charge to a misdemeanor endangerment charge.

A defendant can mitigate the risk element by presenting testimony or an expert witness to show that the risk would not have resulted in great bodily injury or death. Evidence that will support this theory includes steps taken by the defendant to protect the child through the use of safety devices and established parenting rules that the child may not have followed.

Possible Punishment and Consequences

Defendants charged with felony child endangerment face a higher range of punishment than a regular child endangerment allegation. The punishment range in most states is from two to twenty years. If a defendant has a relatively minimal criminal history, then probation is usually an option. Before accepting a probated sentence, a defendant should understand exactly what is involved in the felony child endangerment probation. Some states impose minimum periods of jail time as a condition of probation. This often comes as a surprise to defendants that accepted a probated plea to avoid jail time.

A second requirement of most child endangerment probations is the completion of an extensive parenting class. Failure to complete the course can result in a revocation of a defendant’s probation and possibly affect parental rights if the victim involved was his child.

In addition to the felony child endangerment charge, defendants could also face additional criminal charges. Some states codify felony child endangerment is different ways. In Ohio, intoxication while driving is part of the felony child endangerment statute. Texas, however, creates a separate felony offense for driving while intoxicated when there is a child passenger. Instead of facing one felony charge, a defendant could be forced to defend multiple felony allegations.

Even though not a punishment listed in the penal code, felony child endangerment defendants usually face additional consequences on the civil side by an attack on their parental rights. A defendant charged or convicted of child endangerment can have the rights to his children restricted or terminated depending on the severity of the endangerment.

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