Child endangerment refers actions that are negligent and harm and endanger a child. For example, leaving a child unattended in a car for longer than 15 minutes, or physically disciplining a child, both constitute child endangerment offenses. The penalties for child endangerment can be quite serious, and the stigma of the offense could also harm a person’s relationship with other family members as well as members of their community. If a person has been charged with this offense, they should consult a West Palm Beach child endangerment lawyer. An experienced risk of injury attorney could advocate for them.
Charges and Penalties Associated with Leaving a Child Unattended in a Car
Leaving children unattended or unsupervised in a motor vehicle is one of the most common child endangerment charges. This offense is covered by Florida Statute 316.6135. It says that any parent, legal guardian, or other person responsible for a child younger than six years of age may not leave the child unattended or unsupervised in a motor vehicle for a period in excess of 15 minutes, for any period of time the motor vehicle is running, or if the health of the child is in danger and the child appears to be in distress. That is a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days in jail.
If someone leaves a child in a car while the car is running, that is not as unsafe as it would be if it were not running, especially in the Florida heat. If the car is running and someone leaves a child for more than 15 minutes, that is an infraction punishable by a fine of up to $500. If someone leaves a person alone in a car for an excess of 15 minutes, the car is not running, and it causes great bodily harm, permanent disability, permanent disfigurement to a child, that is punishable by up to five years in prison. A West Palm Beach lawyer could devote the time and resources necessary to achieve a positive outcome in this type of child endangerment case.
Officer Protocol Upon Finding a Child Unattended in a Car
If an officer observes any child left unattended or unsupervised in a motor vehicle for more than 15 minutes, then the officer may use any means reasonably necessary to protect the minor child and remove them from the vehicle. That means that they can break into the car, break the window, bust the lock, do anything they need to do to get that child out of the car to save their life. If the child is removed from the area, they will put a notice on the vehicle to let the parent know that the child is in the custody of the police and the child will be placed under the custody of the Department of Children and Families to make sure that the child is otherwise safe and not abandoned.
What Happens Following an Arrest for Child Endangerment?
After a child endangerment arrest, what normally happens is that the Department of Children and Families (DCF) is called. The Department of Children and Families has the responsibility to investigate whether or not the children and/or any other family member could benefit from the services of the Department.
The services of the Department can include education, rehabilitation, taking possession of the child, having the child declared a dependent child, and placing them in foster care. Foster care can be with a relative or it could be with a stranger. If there is an arrest for child endangerment, normally the Department of Children and Families is called to investigate the well-being of the child and whether or not any services need to be provided to that child or to the child’s family to better protect the child in the future. A West Palm Beach lawyer could protect an individual’s rights during a DCF investigation and child endangerment cases.
Role of the Department of Children and Families in Child Endangerment
The Department of Children and Families will investigate a claim of risk of injury to a minor. Within 24 hours, an investigator will be assigned and will have to make contact with either the child or the custodial parent. They will observe the environment in which the child is living and, of course, the people who have custody of the child. It is the department’s responsibility to do any need-based investigation to see whether or not the child is safe, whether or not the child would benefit from any services that are available from the department, and whether or not the parents need to be educated or rehabilitated in order to provide a safe environment for the children. If the department finds that the environment is not safe for the children, the department has the right to take custody of the children and either find a safer location or hold the children until a safe location can be determined. If a parent is facing child endangerment charges, they should contact a West Palm Beach attorney if the DCF becomes involved.
Laws About Physically Disciplining a Child
A person is allowed to discipline their child. If they are a parent, they have to have a certain degree of authority over their child. They have to be able to enforce rules of their home, of their household, and of their culture, but there has to be a line. A person can spank or slap their child but they cannot cause physical bodily harm. However, there have been child endangerment cases in which corporal punishment or physical discipline led to injury or a mark. If a child has a bruise, a cut, a scratch, or a burn and a medical professional or an educational professional sees that that is going to be considered crossing the line and DCF and the police are going to be called to investigate whether or not the child has been abused. A person is allowed to apply physical discipline, they just cannot cause any injury to their child in an attempt to punish them. Parents should be able to discipline their children and punish them, but not to the extent to which they cause any physical or mental harm. That is where it crosses the line, legally.
Value of a West Palm Beach Child Endangerment Attorney
Child endangerment can have serious consequences if an individual is convicted. Those facing these charges should seek the services of a West Palm Beach child endangerment lawyer. A skilled attorney could pursue a positive outcome for those who have been charged.