It’s a nightmare that happens far more often than it should. You—or a member of your family—is accused of child abuse, and whether it’s true or not the consequences can be extremely serious for your life and future. At times like that, you deserve the best legal counsel possible to help you get justice. Here’s what child abuse charges mean in Texas, and the penalties that go hand-in-hand with them.
Understanding What Child Abuse Is
According to the Texas Criminal Code, child abuse is any activity or omission that causes harm to a child or prevents his (or her) health and development. This applies to physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, and the endangerment can take any of these forms:
- Physical or emotional injury
- Sexual abuse or exploitation
- Physical neglect
- Medical neglect
- Inadequate supervision
Most of these charges exclude anything considered “reasonable” discipline of the child, as well as anything that happens by accident or as a result of insufficient resources (money) to care for him. The penalties are as varied as the offenses, and it’s helpful to understand which charges are typically laid in each situation so you know what punishment to expect.
When Are Charges Laid?
In most cases, the child abuse victim is interviewed by a social worker or a medical professional to determine exactly what happened, and to hear the story in the child’s own words. Medical examinations are done when necessary to check for evidence of physical or sexual abuse, and after that the district attorney decides whether to press charges and if so, which ones to use. Certain charges are classified as felonies, while others are classified as misdemeanors, depending on how severe the consequences are. For example, inadequate supervision that doesn’t result in an injury might be considered less serious than actual physical abuse.
What Are the Penalties?
You can find the full list of penalties in Chapter 12 of the Texas Penal Code, but these are the ones that usually apply in child abuse cases.
If you are charged with a Class A, B or C misdemeanor, the penalties will depend on the seriousness. A misdemeanor charge could qualify for a trial by jury, and the type of penalties typically given for misdemeanors in Texas include:
- For a Class A misdemeanor, the punishment can include up to one year in jail and/or a fine of up to $4,000
- Class B, which is less serious than Class A, carries up to 180 days in jail (six months), and/or a fine of up to $2,000
- Class C convictions don’t include any jail time, but you could get a fine of up to $500
If you have a skilled Texas criminal defense lawyer, he will prepare a defense for your trial that will work to minimize the sentence you get.
Felony charges are much more serious and child abuse defendants could be charged with a felony in cases such as:
- The abuse results in physical injury to the child
- The child is under the age of 14 years
- The victim is mentally incapacitated
- The situation is aggravated by the involvement or assistance of another person
- The accused has a previous conviction for a similar crime
In Texas felonies are classified on different levels of crime, and the punishments are proportionate to the level unless your lawyer can prove mitigating circumstances:
- A Capital felony, such as one that results in the death of a victim, gets a punishment of death or life without parole.
- A First Degree felony conviction brings with it a prison sentence of between five and 99 years, and a fine of up to $10,000. This type of crime includes sexual assault of a child.
- A Second Degree felony, such as a crime that results in serious injury, is punishable by between two and 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
- For a Third Degree felony the prison term is a maximum of 10 years, while the fine amount can also be up to $10,000.
Sex Offenders’ List
In convictions of child abuse that include a sexual component, the defendant is also likely to be penalized by being listed on the National Sex Offender Registry. This is a sentence that follows you for life and can make finding a job and making a future very difficult. At all costs, you need to try and avoid being listed in the register.
A skilled criminal defense attorney in Texas doesn’t care if you are guilty or innocent. He cares about protecting your dignity and reputation. Even if you are convicted, your attorney can get you a better result than you might have otherwise. He can also protect your rights and explain fully the law, your options and the outcomes you can expect.
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