Definition of Child Abuse
In Florida, the crime of child abuse is defined under Section 827.03(1)(b), Florida Statutes. Criminal child abuse can take three forms, including:
- The intentional infliction of physical or mental injury upon a child; or
- An intentional act that could reasonably be expected to result in physical or mental injury to a child; or
- 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.
To prove the crime of “child abuse” at trial, the State of Florida must establish the following two elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- The defendant: (a) intentionally inflicted physical or mental injury upon the alleged victim; or (b) committed an intentional act that could reasonably be expected to result in physical or mental injury to the alleged victim; or (c) actively encouraged another person to commit an act that resulted in or could reasonably have been expected to result in physical or mental injury to the alleged victim; and
- The alleged victim was under the age of 18 years.
Meaning of ‘Mental Injury’
“Mental injury” means injury to the intellectual or psychological capacity of a child as evidenced by a discernible and substantial impairment in the ability of the child to function within the normal range of performance and behavior as supported by expert testimony. See Section 827.03(1)(d), Florida Statutes.
Aggravated Child Abuse
Under Florida law, the offense of child abuse may be upgraded to “aggravated child abuse” where the defendant:
- Commits an “aggravated battery” on a child; or
- Willfully tortures, maliciously punishes, or willfully and unlawfully cages a child; or
- Knowingly or willfully abuses a child and in so doing causes great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement to the child.
Penalties for Child Abuse
All child abuse crimes in Florida are felony offenses and carry penalties that will vary according to a number of factors.
- Aggravated Child Abuse- Where the acts of the defendant constitute “aggravated child abuse,” the offense is classified as a first degree felony, punishable by up to thirty years in prison and a $10,000.00 fine.
- Felony Child Abuse- Where the abuse does not amount to aggravated child abuse and does not cause great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement to the child, the offense is a third degree felony, with penalties of up to five years in prison or five years of probation, and a $5,000.00 fine.
Defenses to the Charge
There are numerous defenses available to contest a charge of child abuse. Common examples include:
- Factual disputes as to the perpetrator of the alleged abuse;
- Insufficient evidence that the defendant committed abuse;
- Defendant’s acts were not intentional;
- The Defendant did not act in a manner that could reasonably be expected to cause physical or mental injury;
- Accidents and mere negligence;
- False accusations;
- Self-defense (cases involving teenage victims);
- Defense of others;
- Defense of property.
Parental Privilege Defense
Under Florida law, “parental privilege” is an affirmative defense that, in appropriate cases, may shield a defendant from criminal liability for child abuse.
Parental privilege has been defined as the “right of a parent, or one standing in loco parentis, to moderately chastise for correction a child under his or her control and authority.” Raford v. State, 828 So.2d 1012, 1020 (Fla., 2002) (citing Marshall v. Reams, 32 Fla. 499, 14 So. 95, 97 (1893)).
In practical terms, this means that parents have a right to administer “reasonable” or “nonexcessive” corporal punishment, i.e., “a typical spanking,” without committing a crime. Raford, 828 So. 2d at 1020.
Parental privilege does not confer immunity from prosecution for child abuse or mean that child abuse cannot be committed by a parent. It merely provides a defense in a prosecution for simple child abuse where a defendant can credibly assert that his or her actions fell within the bounds of reasonable child discipline. Nixon v. State, 773 So.2d 1213 (Fla. 1st DCA 2000) (review dismissed, 790 So.2d 1106 (Fla. 2001)); Brown v. State, 802 So.2d 434, 436 (Fla. 4th DCA 2001); Corsen v. State, 784 So.2d 535, 536 (Fla. 5th DCA 2001).
Contact an Attorney
If you have been accused of Child Abuse, you may have defenses available to contest the charge or to minimize potential penalties. contact attorney Steven Sessa today for a free consultation. Attorney Steven Sessa handles criminal cases in Palm Beach County, Florida.