Definition of Child Neglect
The offense of child neglect is defined under Section 827.03, Florida Statutes. Under the law, “neglect of child” means “[a] caregiver’s failure or omission to provide a child with the care, supervision, and services necessary to maintain the child’s physical and mental health,” including, but not limited to:
- Food and nutrition;
- Medicine and medical services that a prudent person would consider essential for the well-being of the child.
Child Neglect may also occur as a result of “[a] caregiver’s failure to make a reasonable effort to protect a child from abuse, neglect, or exploitation by another person.”
To prove the crime of Child Neglect in Florida, the prosecution must establish the following three elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- The defendant: (a) wilfully or by culpable negligence failed or omitted to provide the alleged victim with the care, supervision, and services necessary to maintain the victim’s physical or mental health; or (b) failed to make a reasonable effort to protect the alleged victim from abuse, neglect, or exploitation by another person;
- The defendant was the “caregiver” for the alleged victim; and
- The alleged victim was under 18 years of age.
Culpable Negligence vs. Negligence
As the term implies, ‘culpable negligence’ involves a higher degree of fault or responsibility than ordinary civil negligence. Culpable negligence is defined as a “failure to use reasonable care on behalf of another when such failure is gross or flagrant. The negligence must be committed with an utter disregard for the safety of others.”
Culpable negligence involves consciously doing an act or following a course of conduct that the defendant must have known, or reasonably should have known, was likely to cause death or great bodily harm.
- Source: Fla. Std. Jury Instr. (Crim) 16.5.
Neglect of a child may be based on repeated conduct or on a single incident or omission that resulted in, or reasonably could have been expected to result in, serious physical or mental injury, or a substantial risk of death, to a child.
Florida law requires that the defendant be a “caregiver,” which is defined as a parent, adult household member, or other person responsible for the child’s welfare.
Penalties for Child Neglect
All criminal offenses in Florida charged as “Neglect of a Child” are classified as felonies. Where the neglect or abuse does not result in great bodily harm (or permanent disability or disfigurement), the charge is a third degree felony, with penalties of up to 5 years in prison or 5 years of probation and a $5,000 fine.
Where great bodily harm occurs, the charge is a second degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison or 15 years probation and a $10,000 fine.
A conviction for neglect of child may also negatively impact parental rights or result in a complete loss of parental rights.
Defenses to a Child Neglect Charge
Due to the subjectivity involved in Florida child neglect cases, there are numerous defenses available to contest a charge of child neglect. Some of the more common defenses to this crime include the following:
- The defendant’s acts were not willful, or sufficiently flagrant or negligent;
- The defendant used reasonable efforts to protect the child from abuse or neglect;
- The defendant is not a “caregiver” with the responsibility for the child’s welfare;
- The incident occurred as a result of an accident, mistake of fact, or misunderstanding;
- The defendant under the reasonable impression that another person was supervising the child;
- The defendant’s acts or omissions amount to mere negligence;
- Lack of proof as to the acts, omissions, or mental state of the defendant;
- The harm suffered in the course of the incident was not reasonably foreseeable;
Florida’s child neglect laws were not intended to criminally punish parents or other caregivers for innocent human errors and momentary lapses of supervision. Tragic accidents are inevitable, and a tragedy is not lessened by prosecuting individuals who lack the requisite criminal intent.
Contact an Attorney
If you have been accused of Child Neglect, 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 cases through Southeast and Central Florida.