Being convicted for abusing and neglecting a child can negatively impact your reputation or make you lose custody over your child. With legal help from an experienced law firm like ours (Virginia Criminal Attorney), it's possible to mitigate these negative consequences. Our law firm boasts of attorneys experienced in domestic violence, driving offenses, drug crimes, fraud and property crimes. Our legal assistance helps individuals across Fairfax, Virginia and entire Northern Virginia to seek justice for their legal battles.
What are the Laws for Abuse and Neglect of a Child in Virginia?
Under Virginia Code 18.2-371.1, any guardian, parent or individual responsible for caring for a child who willfully exposes the child to severe injury or refuses to offer the child necessary care is guilty of child abuse and neglect. The child must be below the age of 18 years for this law to take effect. Serious injury may include a severe burn, disfigurement, maiming, mutilation, severe internal injuries, and a fracture. For you to be involved in this offense, you must be the child's guardian/parent or an individual with control, care responsibility or custody of the child.
What Does Abuse and Neglect Mean?
- Physical Abuse
Physical abuse, in this context, is a general term for acts aimed at inflicting or threatening to inflict injury to a child or increase the child’s risk to death. Such an offense usually happens when a child is under parental or guardianship care. Common types of physical abuse include asphyxiation (oxygen deprivation), mental abuse, bone fracture, head injuries, burns/scalding, cuts, abrasions, and bruises. Internal injuries, poisoning (through injection, inhalation or ingestion), bizarre disciplining of a child, stabbing wounds and gunshot wounds are also forms of physical abuse.
Exposing a child to the manufacture or sale of drugs may qualify as an act of physical abuse. Laboratories for manufacturing drugs such as methamphetamine emit toxins that can easily get into contact with a child’s body. Being involved in such an act may make you guilty of child abuse and neglect or sale/manufacture of controlled substances.
Neglect, on the other hand, can transpire when you fail to offer the required medical treatment, shelter, clothing and food to a child in your care, custody or control. You may also be charged for neglect if you fail to watch over your child to an extent in which his/her safety or health is endangered. Neglect can occur when you engage in behaviors (such as being absent) that severely prevents or limits you from caring for your child. In cases where family poverty leads to neglect, you may not be charged for neglecting the child, and the Virginia DSS (Department of Social Services) may be involved to ensure the child receives the needed care.
Knowingly leaving your child with an individual (a relative or friend) who's supposed to register or has registered as a violent sex offender is a crime of neglect. The Virginia registry for sex offenders and offenses against minors helps law enforcement officers protect families and communities against repeat sex offenders under VA Code 9.1-900. With this information, parents can also prevent their children from interacting with known sexual offenders. Offenses that make it mandatory to register as a violent sexual offender include sexual battery, forcible sodomy, rape and abduction with the intent to defile a minor.
What are the Penalties for Abuse and Neglect of Child in Virginia?
Virginia Code 18.2-371.1(a) considers willful child abuse and neglect as a Class 4 felony. As stated under VA Code 18.2-10(d), Class 4 felonies attract a prison sentence that ranges from two to ten years together with a fine (not exceeding $100,000). A Virginia court may impose the prison sentence with the fine or prison sentence only depending on the facts surrounding your case.
If the prosecutors prove that the child abuse and neglect crime was as a result of a reckless disregard for your child's life, you may be charged with a Class 6 felony under VA Code 18.2-371.1(b)(1). In Virginia, Class 6 felonies attract an imprisonment term ranging from one year to five years. If the court tries your case without the presence of a jury or your case is tried in the jury's discretion, you may be asked to pay a fine (limited to $2,500) and serve a month jail confinement.
What Type of Protective Order is Issued for Child Abuse and Neglect Cases in Virginia?
A Virginia court may release a court order (known as the preliminary protective order) upon its own motion or someone else’s motion after a hearing under VA Code 16.1-253. Such a court order helps protect the child's life, normal development, safety or health as your case is awaiting the verdict. You'll be required by the preliminary protective order to maintain certain behavior conditions for a particular length of time. The requirements are as follows:
- To cooperate in the administration of reasonable programs/services aimed at protecting the child’s normal development, life or health;
- To abstain from engaging in any offensive conduct (including child abuse and neglect) against the child's family/household member or child;
- To allow the person granted visitation rights to see the child;
- To allow the parties named by a Virginia court to inspect your home's fitness and establish the child's emotional or physical health at reasonable times;
- To abstain from omission or commission acts that may endanger the life, normal development or health of the child;
- To refrain being in contact with the child or the child’s family/household members;
What are the Penalties for Violating a Preliminary Protective Order?
A Virginia court will issue a preliminary protective order against you once a petition indicating that a child was subjected to abuse and neglect has been filed. The order will also be provided once a warrant or petition for your arrest has been issued. Failing to meet the conditions indicated in the protective order may imply that you disregarded the child's life, safety, health or healthy development. A violation of a preliminary protective order is considered as a Class 1 misdemeanor under VA Code 18.2-60.4.
Class 1 misdemeanors committed in Virginia usually attract a jail confinement sentence of up to 12 months and a fine (limited to $2,500) or both under VA Code 18.2-11. When convicted for violating your protective order for the second time (within five years of your previous conviction), the minimum mandatory confinement term is sixty days. A third or subsequent violation of this order (within twenty years of your first conviction) is treated as a Class 6 felony.
Which Crime Elements Should a Prosecutor Prove to Charge You For Abuse and Neglect of a Child in Virginia?
According to the Virginia State Bar, Virginia prosecutors have the mandate to ensure that you're charged based on certain evidence/facts. For a crime of child abuse and neglect, they should prove various elements constituting your case. Such elements include:
- You Were the Child’s Parent, Guardian or Caregiver
Virginia Code 22.1-213.1 defines “parent” as an individual with biological or adoptive rights to a child. A foster parent suits this definition even if the rights of the adoptive or biological parent haven’t been terminated. VA Code 22.1-213.1 also defines “guardian” as a person with authorization to act as a child’s parent or make proper educational decisions suited for a child. You may qualify as a parent if you are a stepparent, grandparent or relative acting in the place of a child’s adoptive or biological parent.
As a person authorized to offer care to a child, you may work in a child day center or child welfare center. The child day center you’re working for must meet the requirements stipulated in Virginia Code 63.2-1720. The work of a child welfare center may include assuring sufficient care of children, placing children in suitable adoptive homes or protecting the welfare of disabled, dependent, neglected and homeless children. Virginia prosecutors must prove that you meet such criteria to build a case against you under VA Code 18.2-371.1.
- You Acted Willfully
Acting willfully or knowingly, in this context, may imply that you were conscious about your actions at the time you committed an offense. Prosecutors may argue that you acted intentionally and voluntarily when you choose to abuse and neglect a child. You may be convicted under VA Code 18.2-371.1 if you also had the intent to disregard the law or engage in an activity that the law forbids.
- You Abused and Neglected the Child
Under VA Code 63.2-100, the phrase "abuse and neglect of a child" may apply to a child below the age of 18 years whose parent, guardian or caregiver inflicts, threatens to inflict or allows the infliction of mental or physical injury of a child. The phrase may also apply to a child whose parent, guardian or caregiver refuses to or neglects to offer the necessary care for his/her health. You'll be charged for child abuse and neglect provided that you have any form of legal authority on a child and you're involved in the child's mental/physical injury.
Which Legal Defenses Can Help You Fight Charges for Violating VA Code 18.2-371.1?
Just like how prosecutors use elements of a crime to charge you of a crime, your attorney can argue your innocence with certain facts or pieces of evidence. To increase the chances of getting your charges dropped, the lawyer should organize these facts into legal defenses. The legal defenses suited for arguing your innocence when accused of abuse and neglect of a child are as follows:
- The Alleged Victim Isn’t a Minor
A Virginia court can only handle your case under VA Code 18.2-371.1 if the alleged victim is a minor (person below the age of 18). For the case of neglect, your attorney can argue that you're entitled to be supported by the alleged victim. VA Code 20-88 states that individuals over the age of eighteen with adequate income or earning capacity should reasonably provide for their immediate family, mother or father in times of need. When the court considers this argument, the alleged victim may be found guilty of a misdemeanor under VA Code 20-88 and be asked to pay a fine of not more than $500 or serve up to a jail sentence (not more than 12 months).
- False Accusations
False accusations in cases involving child abuse and neglect may arise out of a domestic or family conflict. Though they're not common, motives for the allegations may include anger, revenge, jealousy, and desire to have control over a child. The accusations may also be brought by a spouse attempting to gain full custody or more visitation rights to a child or an individual with a desire to punish a former/current romantic partner. At times, the allegations may be made by children that are upset that their parents have new romantic partners.
- The Injuries Weren’t as a Result of Abuse
To avoid being charged with a Class 6 felony under VA Code 18.2-371.1 for recklessly disregarding human life, you can argue that the child's injuries weren't caused by physical abuse. For instance, the child may suffer injuries after being subjected to bullying at school or in the neighborhood. The Virginia DSS allows the public, school educators, medical professionals, and childcare providers to report any child abuse and neglect incidents. Your attorney can enlist a medical examiner to assess the injuries and establish their source regardless of what these individuals/entities report to the DSS.
- Mistake of Fact
As much as the Virginia DSS allows people to report any incidents of child abuse and neglect, the reports have to be factual for you to be convicted for violating VA Code 18.2-37.1. At times, the reporters may notice signs of neglect as far as your duties to provide necessary care to a child are concerned. Your attorney may cite the inaccuracy in reporting as a mistake of fact to argue that you're innocent.
- You Didn’t Act Knowingly
You won't be convicted for failing to provide your child necessities unless you acted knowingly or willfully. VA Code 18.2-371.1 considers neglect as a willful act if the failure to ensure a child got certain necessities was entirely your fault. Your attorney may argue that you didn't recognize that your child needed the assistance/care.
Offenses Related to Abuse and Neglect of a Child in Virginia
Besides being charged with child abuse and neglect of a child, prosecutors may make allegations against you for committing the following crimes:
Encouraging or Causing Acts that Render Children Neglected or Abused
Provided that you’re over 18 years old, you may be charged under VA Code 18.2-371 for engaging in or facilitating acts that make a child feel neglected or abused. You may also be charged for the same if your actions leave the child desperately in need of supervision or certain services. Prosecutors may argue that you abandoned the child after imposing abuse or at the time you were needed most.
Detaining or Taking a Person for Prostitution or Human Trafficking
Under Virginia Code 18.2-355, it's unlawful to take or detain people and force them against their will to engage in prostitution or human trafficking. These charges may still apply whether you're a legal custodian, guardian, parent or close acquaintance of the alleged victim. If your case involves a minor, you'll be prosecuted for a Class 3 felony.
Taking Indecent Liberties with a Child
Engaging in indecent acts with a child who's under 15 years of age can make you be charged for committing a Class 5 felony under VA Code 18.2-370 provided that you're an adult. The indecent acts may include exposing genital/sexual parts to a child, asking the child to fondle his/her genital/sexual parts and luring or enticing a child to engage in sexual intercourse. Your case may be treated as a Class 4 felony if you commit such acts on your child, step-child, step-grandchild or grandchild who's below 18 years of age or at least 15 years old.
Body Piercing or Tattooing of Minors
VA Code 18.2-371.3 considers it unlawful to tattoo or apply body piercings on a person below the age of 18 years. The procedure is only allowed if it's conducted under the supervision of a licensed medical practitioner or the presence of the child's parent. Violating this law may make you guilty of a Virginia Class 1 misdemeanor.
Knowingly Selling or Distributing Tobacco Products to Minors
Selling tobacco products, nicotine products or alternative tobacco and nicotine products to minors is illegal as stipulated under VA Code 18.2-371.2. If the tobacco products are sold through a vending machine, the machine should have a notice stating that tobacco is only legal for use to adults. You may face a civil penalty of $500 for the first violation of this law and a $200 civil penalty for a second violation of this law.
Beat Child Abuse and Neglect Charges by Working With a Lawyer Near Me
The outcomes of your child abuse and neglect case will determine whether your reputation or custody over a child in Virginia will be lost or maintained. Our firm (Virginia Criminal Attorney) understands the kind of stress people go through seeking justice for child abuse and neglect allegations. Our attorneys, who work with clients across Fairfax, Virginia, and North Virginia, can help you with cases such as domestic violence, drug crimes, and driving crimes. Call our Fairfax Criminal Lawyer at 703-718-5533 to get the legal help you need for your case.