How Serious Is A Child Endangerment Charge?

Crimes against children range from minor infractions, like carelessly jeopardizing a child’s welfare, to serious felonies. Regardless of the severity, child endangerment charges are always serious—many laws against child endangerment mandate prison time.

Child endangerment is a crime defined as placing a child in danger of physical, mental, or emotional injury. This can include leaving the child unsupervised in an unsafe environment, failing to provide adequate food or shelter, exposing the child to illegal substances, or neglecting to seek medical care when needed.

child endangerment

What Counts as Child Endangerment in Missouri?

Child endangerment occurs when an adult knowingly, recklessly, or negligently endangers a child for any reason. By law, “recklessly” means you do something dangerous without considering your actions’ consequences, or without caring about those consequences. You can be found guilty of child endangerment even if you didn’t intend to harm the child or put them in danger; all that is required is you knew what you were doing was dangerous and did it anyway.

According to the state of Missouri (§568.050 of the Missouri Revised Statutes) child endangerment is “the failure of persons responsible for the care, custody, and control of a child under the age of eighteen years to give the care that is reasonable and required to maintain the child’s physical and mental health.”

For example, a drunk man drives his car, with his 10-year-old niece in the front seat next to him. He knows he shouldn’t drive while intoxicated because it’s illegal, but he still does so anyway because he wants to get home faster than walking or waiting for a cab.

The man has committed two crimes: Driving while intoxicated (DWI) and endangering his niece by driving with her in such an unsafe manner (child endangerment). Both crimes may be felonies due to their seriousness; however, since DWI involves alcohol consumption only while child endangerment involves reckless or knowing behaviors that risk another person’s life through one’s actions–two separate acts—the former may receive less jail time than its counterpart.

Further, adults in specific professions in Missouri are required to report any indications of (or knowledge of) child endangerment. These professions include doctors, nurses, social workers, teachers, police officers, and other authority figures in environments where children can be found; these people are commonly referred to as, “mandatory reporters.”

Child Endangerment vs. Child Abuse: Are They the Same?

Most people are familiar with the term “child abuse.” Child abuse encompasses physical violence, mental or emotional abuse, neglect, exploitation, and sexual abuse–any form of cruelty inflicted upon a child. In all 50 states, child abuse is a serious crime that is sometimes charged as child endangerment when not charged as outright assault and battery.  

The definition of the crime in the majority of states, including Missouri, is an act or failure to act:

  • Which causes physical, emotional, or sexual abuse that puts a child’s health and well-being in grave danger or harm;
  • Where a child is impacted (under the age of 18 in Missouri);
  • Conducted by a parent or other adult in charge of the child’s well-being.

The Penalties for a Child Endangerment Conviction in Missouri

A child endangerment charge can permanently affect many areas of your life. You can go to prison, have a felony on your record, lose custody of your children, and have difficulty finding a job. 

A felony conviction for child abuse prevents you from being eligible for parole or probation until you have served at least a year in jail. The following are possible sanctions:

The punishments depend on the classification of the felony:

  • Class C felony: up to 7 years in prison; if abuse results in serious emotional or physical injury
  • Class B felony: between 5 and 15 years in prison; if abuse results in the death of the child then it is a, 
  • Class A felony: 10-30 years, or life in prison

If there are significant mental or bodily harms, child abuse is a Class B felony. If the victim dies due to the abuse, it is a Class A felony. Being accused of either is serious. You need the assistance of an experienced lawyer.

Alternatives to Jail

To avoid jail time, you may be able to complete community service, treatment programs, alcohol or drug rehabilitation programs, or other remedial services. Such alternatives are sometimes offered as an alternative by the prosecutor. Participation in these programs will likely be monitored closely, usually on supervised probation.

Attorney Representation Is Highly Recommended 

Hiring an attorney who can present your case in the best possible light is essential. If you are charged with child endangerment, you need to find an attorney who is experienced in this field and knows how to best handle the situation.

Even if your case appears simple at first, it could quickly become complex as time goes on. You need a lawyer who can see all possibilities and prepare accordingly; only then will you receive the best representation possible.

However, while you might think you’re being treated unfairly by the court system and prosecutors, this isn’t necessarily true. Defense attorneys generally have the upper hand in court cases because you control much of the information presented to juries during trials. This means you must fight for your rights!

How Can I Fight My Child Endangerment Charge In Missouri?

If you or a loved one has been charged with child endangerment, it is important to consult an attorney immediately. A lawyer can guide you through the process and help protect your rights and freedom.

If you have been arrested and charged with child endangerment, some defenses may apply:

  • Parental discretion: Parents have discretion over how they exercise your parental rights;
  • Good faith belief/Superior knowledge: You reasonably believed there was no risk of harm because circumstances were different than what actually occurred;
  • Necessity / Self-defense: You acted in self-defense against imminent injury or death; No intent to commit an unlawful act (no men’s rea): There was no intent to commit any harmful act toward another person

A Jury Trial May Be Necessary To Present Your Case

A jury trial may be necessary to present evidence and cross-examine any alleged victims or witnesses. 

Jury selection is a process of elimination and, therefore, extremely important. The prosecutor will try to eliminate jurors who aren’t favorable to your case. Your attorney should strive for a jury that would likely find you not guilty if there were no other options available but acquittal. This can happen when the state has insufficient evidence against you or the state’s witnesses were discredited by your attorney through cross-examination.

Contact a Missouri Criminal Defense Lawyer Today

Facing criminal charges is a nerve-racking experience, and we are the firm to provide support and guidance at every step of the process. Kirsch & Kirsch, LLC is ready to take on your case.

We offer high-quality representation and individualized attention and are committed to putting the needs of our clients first. Call our firm today to schedule your consultation. Your first consultation is free with no obligation!