Anyone — a teacher, a neighbor, an ex, a passerby — can make a call to the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) and accuse a parent of child abuse, regardless of whether s/he knows all the facts. Child abuse laws aim to protect children from serious harm, but unfortunately, many child abuse allegations come about from innocent situations or parental mistakes.
Child abuse charges can throw your family into major upheaval. A conviction means harsh ramifications, including imprisonment, fines, and separation from your child/ren. If you are facing accusations of child abuse, call the child abuse defense lawyers in Pinellas County, FL at Goldman Wetzel and learn how we can assist you with your case: 727-828-3900.
Florida’s Definition of Child Abuse
Florida Statute § 827.03(1)(b) broadly defines child abuse as:
1. Intentional infliction of physical or mental injury upon a child;
2. An intentional act that could reasonably be expected to result in physical or mental injury to a child; or
3. Active encouragement of any person to commit an act that results or could reasonably be expected to result in physical or mental injury to a child.
The law provides an extensive list and examples of what real “harm” entails. Note: physical injuries need not exist to constitute abuse. Examples of harm that may indicate genuine child abuse include:
- Sprains and fractures
- Burns, bites, punctures
- Internal injuries
- Giving a child poison, alcohol, or drugs
- Inappropriate or excessively harsh disciplinary action
- Leaving a child without adult supervision appropriate for the child’s age
- Sexual abuse
Corporal Discipline (Spanking) Does NOT Constitute Child Abuse
In Florida, parents have the legal authority to reasonably discipline their children, which includes methods such as spanking. Florida Statute § 39.01(2) provides: “Corporal discipline of a child by a parent or legal custodian for disciplinary purposes does not in itself constitute abuse when it does not result in harm to the child.”
If you were wrongly accused of child abuse because you exercised your parental authority to discipline your child, our defense lawyers can fight to protect your rights and your family. Contact our team for help.
Factors the Court Considers in Child Abuse Cases
In determining if child abuse occurred, the court will determine whether the defendant caused harm to a child’s health or welfare. The judge may consider various factors such as:
- The age of the child;
- Any prior history of injuries to the child;
- The location of the injury;
- The multiplicity of the injury; and
- The type of trauma inflicted.
When you work with Goldman Wetzel, we will review your case and clearly explain what you are up against. We can tell your side of the story in the best possible light and present factors that might help your case, such as the strength of the parent-child relationship, character witnesses, and the specific factors that led up to the alleged abuse.
Penalties for Child Abuse in Florida
Child abuse is a felony offense. Florida classifies child abuse cases into two categories:
Felony child abuse: When a person willfully abuses a child without causing “great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement to the child,” the state deems it a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Aggravated child abuse: When a person commits aggravated battery on a child; willfully tortures, maliciously punishes, or willfully cages a child; or knowingly “abuses a child and in so doing causes great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement to the child,” the state deems it “aggravated child abuse.” This elevates the offense to a first-degree felony, punishable by up to 30 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Defenses to Accusations of Child Abuse
Many valid defenses to child abuse exist that can result in a case dismissal or mitigated charges. Our attorneys work together on each case we accept, devising an appropriate defense strategy, and aggressively fighting on your behalf.
Effective defenses to child abuse allegations include:
- False accusations (learn more about what to do if you have been falsely accused of child abuse here);
- Insufficient evidence of abuse;
- Parental privilege (parents’ aforementioned right to reasonably discipline their children);
- The defendant did not expect her actions to cause injury;
- The harm was accidental, e.g., accidentally closing your child’s hand in a door; and
- The harm resulted from other circumstances, e.g., an altercation with another child at school.
Our Child Abuse Defense Lawyers Can Help Fight Your Charges
Summer Goldman and Maribeth Wetzel have over three decades of combined experience in both prosecution and defense. We know how the state operates and the legal tactics it uses in child abuse cases. With great attention and focus, we will comb through the state’s case to identify and expose errors or gaps in evidence and work to cast doubt on the prosecutor’s arguments.
In some cases, we may be able to present preliminary evidence that sways the prosecutor or judge to drop the case altogether. If that is not possible, we can explore other options such as:
- Helping you enroll in parenting classes
- Negotiating for a plea bargain
- Jumping into the throes of pretrial preparations
If the state has filed aggravated child abuse charges against you, we can look for ways to argue for a reduction in charges.
You do not have to face the criminal justice system alone. Our firm can provide the astute representation and counsel you need when facing serious allegations like child abuse. We will stand by you from the moment you retain us until the case concludes. Our attorneys will act as your legal confidantes and rigorously advocate for you and your family’s best interests throughout the entire ordeal.
Call a Child Abuse Defense Lawyer in Pinellas County Today
For a free consultation with a child abuse defense lawyer in Pinellas County, FL, call Goldman Wetzel today at 727-828-3900.