When law enforcement has to get involved in the relationship between parents and children, it is traumatic for everyone. If the authorities bring child endangerment charges, the outcome could be especially dire. Conviction of child endangerment might lead to loss of custody, limitations on visitation with a child, and even jail time. A dedicated domestic violence attorney could provide assistance.
If a situation has arisen in which law enforcement has brought a child endangerment charge, it is important to talk to a Hennepin County child endangerment lawyer right away. Anything you say can be used against you, so avoid speaking to the police or a prosecutor until your lawyer is present.
Forms of Child Endangerment
Minnesota Statutes § 609.378 provides a list of circumstances that might indicate someone is endangering a child. Depriving the child of shelter, food, clothing, or health care could be child endangerment if the adult had the means to provide these necessities and failed to do so. Failing to offer age-appropriate supervision and discipline is considered child endangerment, as is knowingly permitting someone to physically or sexually abuse a child.
The statute is broadly written in order to offer vulnerable children the greatest possible protection. However, the broad language means that child endangerment is somewhat subjective. That subjectivity gives prosecutors a lot of leeway in deciding whether to bring a child endangerment charge. It is critical that anyone suspected of this crime has a Hennepin County child endangerment attorney who could supervise any communication between the defendant and law enforcement.
Child endangerment charges are often brought against parents but others could also be charged under the statute, such as a child’s legal guardian or caretaker.
Establishing Substantial Risk of Harm
To support a child endangerment charge, the adult’s actions had to expose the child to a substantial risk of harm to their physical, mental, or emotional health. “Substantial risk” is another subjective phrase, but in general, the harm threatened must be significant and long lasting, if not permanent. Exposing a child to a substantial risk of harm is a gross misdemeanor and a conviction carries a sentence of up to a year in jail and a $3,000 fine.
Sometimes a child suffers actual harm because a parent, guardian, or caretaker knowingly exposed them to physical or sexual abuse, or deprived them of necessary food, shelter, clothing, supervision, discipline, or medical care. When a prosecutor can prove actual harm, child endangerment is a felony. The sentence upon conviction of felony child endangerment could be up to five years of imprisonment and a $10,000 fine.
The law describes two specific scenarios that could lead to child endangerment convictions. Parents, guardians, and caretakers may not:
- Knowingly allow a child to be in a place where controlled substances are used, manufactured, or sold
- Intentionally and recklessly allow a child under 14 years of age access to a loaded firearm
Violating either of these prohibitions could be a misdemeanor if the child did not suffer actual harm; or a felony if the child was injured. A Hennepin County child endangerment lawyer might be able to present arguments regarding the defendant’s knowledge, intention, or recklessness to defeat a charge on these grounds.
Possible Defenses for Lack of Action
The child endangerment law describes certain situations in which a parent, guardian, or caretaker could be excused for exposing a child to harm. For example, someone is excused from intervening when a child is being physically or sexually abused if the person is fearful that they will themselves suffer bodily harm as a result of the intervention. It is also a valid defense if the person believes that the abuser will retaliate against the child if the person intervenes. There may be other defenses available in a particular case.
Prepare Your Defense with a Hennepin County Child Endangerment Attorney
Protecting children should be a high priority in any society. However, there may be some instances where it is unclear if an action rises to the level of endangerment. When that happens, make sure to get a committed legal professional on your side. Contact a Hennepin County child endangerment lawyer as soon as you suspect you might be facing charges.