Children need care and protection. However, there are too many innocent people wrongly accused of child abuse or neglect. In a messy divorce or child custody fight, parents and relatives may go to extreme measures to get custody or punish the other parent, including making false accusations of abuse.
Even claims of child abuse can ruin someone's life. A conviction for child abuse can limit a person's future with their own children and even limit their career opportunities. At the first claim of abuse, the accused should talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney about their rights. Talk to your experienced North Carolina criminal defense attorney about your options when someone accuses you of abuse.
Child Abuse Laws in North Carolina
Child abuse laws in North Carolina fall under a few different statutes, depending on the type of alleged abuse, age of the child, and individual's criminal history. Child abuse can be charged as a misdemeanor or as a felony in North Carolina.
Misdemeanor Child Abuse
Under North Carolina General Statute § 14-318.2, any parent, caregiver, or supervisor of a child less than 16 years of age who abuses a child is guilty of a Class A1 misdemeanor. Abuse may include anyone who:
- Inflicts physical injury,
- Allows physical injury to be inflicted, or
- Creates or allows a substantial risk of physical injury.
The penalties for a conviction of Class A1 misdemeanor child abuse can include:
Felony Child Abuse
Felony child abuse generally involves more serious injury or sexual abuse to a child. Under North Carolina General Statute § 14-318.4, any parent, caregiver, or supervisor of a child less than 16 years of age who abuses the child is guilty of a felony, under the following circumstances:
Class D Felony
- Intentionally inflicts serious physical injury upon a child;
- Intentionally assaults a child which results in serious physical injury;
- Commits, encourages, or permits prostitution with the child; or
- Commits or allows the commission of any sexual act upon the child.
Class B2 Felony
- Intentionally inflicts serious physical injury upon a child which results in permanent or protracted loss or impairment of any mental or emotional function of the child.
Class E Felony
- Whose willful act or grossly negligent omission in the care of the child shows a reckless disregard for human life if the act or omission results in serious bodily injury to the child.
“Serious bodily injury” is that which creates a substantial risk of death or that causes serious permanent disfigurement, coma, a permanent or protracted condition that causes extreme pain, or permanent or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ, or that results in prolonged hospitalization.
Class G Felony
- Whose willful act or grossly negligent omission in the care of the child shows a reckless disregard for human life if the act or omission results in serious physical injury to the child.
“Serious physical injury” is that which causes great pain and suffering, including serious mental injury.
Felony Child Abuse Penalties
The penalties for a felony child abuse conviction can depend on the individual case, prior criminal charges, and the class of felony. Imprisonment ranges for felony abuse can include:
- Class B2 Felony: 94 to 393 months in prison
- Class D Felony: 38 to 160 months in prison
- Class E Felony: 15 to 63 months in prison
- Class G Felony: 8 to 31 months in prison
This is in addition to other penalties including fines, mandatory counseling, and protection orders.
Other Consequences of a Child Abuse Conviction
The consequences of a child abuse conviction go beyond just a possible fine and jail time. A conviction can follow the defendant for the rest of their life. Collateral consequences of a criminal record for child abuse can include:
- Limiting child custody and visitation,
- Possible deportation or removal proceedings,
- Limited job prospects, and
- Limited professional opportunities.
A felony conviction for child abuse can also result in loss of voting rights, loss of housing options, and prohibit purchase or ownership of a firearm.
Mandatory Reporting of Suspected Child Abuse in North Carolina
Child abuse is often reported even without any evidence or proof of abuse. Part of this may be due to the mandatory reporting of suspected abuse. Under North Carolina General Statute § 7B-301, any person or institution who has cause to suspect a juvenile is abused, neglected, or dependent shall report the suspected abuse to the Department of Social Services (DSS). Failure to report suspected abuse can result in criminal misdemeanor charges.
Child Welfare Services Investigations
Most reports of suspected abuse begin with a Child Protective Services (CPS) investigation. CPS assesses suspected cases of abuse and neglect. A CPS investigation can involve a government worker coming to your house, interviewing the child and parents, inspecting your home, and a medical examination of the child. Saying the wrong thing can give the investigator the wrong impression. You have the right to talk to a lawyer and protect yourself against self-incrimination.
Defenses to Child Abuse Allegations
There are a number of defenses to allegations of child abuse. Minor injuries to children are pretty common and are often just unfortunate accidents. These may include anything from falling off a bike to getting fingers trapped in a closing door. These injuries may be totally unrelated to any abuse but still result in a concerned neighbor calling child welfare.
False allegations of abuse are often related to fights between the parents. A divorce, break-up, or finding out about a cheating spouse may lead to the other spouse or family member making false claims of abuse to punish the parent.
Many people accused of abuse do not think they have any option but to accept a plea deal. However, your attorney may be able to question witnesses and identify evidence to show that the allegations were false and motivated by malice. Talk to your North Carolina defense attorney to understand your options when facing claims of child abuse.
Safe Haven Law Defense
Abandoning a child can result in child abuse or neglect charges. However, North Carolina has a “safe haven” law that allows parents to give up an infant under 7 days old without facing criminal charges. The Safe Haven law is intended to save infants who otherwise might be abandoned and allows them to be left without questions at places like police departments, fire stations, or hospitals.
North Carolina Defense Attorneys
If you or a loved one has been accused of child abuse or CPS was called about suspected abuse, contact the Caulder & Valentine Law Firm, PLLC. After someone is accused of child abuse, their first instinct is often to try and correct the misinformation. However, if an ex or former partner has accused you of abuse, you should consider talking to a lawyer before trying to fix the situation on your own. Child abuse accusations can ruin your life. Contact us online or by phone at 704-470-2440 today for a consultation.