We will aggressively defend clients against Child Abuse and Neglect charges in Detroit, Lansing, Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, and throughout Michigan.
Being accused of child abuse or child neglect can have serious consequences. Child Protective Services (CPS) may investigate the situation and can ask the court to terminate parental rights. Unfortunately, many people face criminal child abuse charges in addition to a CPS investigation. In Michigan, there are four degrees of criminal child abuse. All four child abuse crimes carry substantial criminal penalties for those convicted. These charges often involve alleged intentional, knowing, willful, negligent, and reckless acts dealing with maltreatment of children.
CHILD ABUSE CRIMES
First Degree Child Abuse
First degree child abuse is the most serious Michigan child abuse crime. In order to prove this charge, the prosecutor must show that a parent or guardian who has care, custody, or authority over a child either knowingly or intentionally caused “serious physical harm” or “serious mental harm” to the child.
- Serious physical harm requires a physical injury to the child that seriously impairs the child’s health or physical well-being. This includes, but is not limited to: brain damage, skull or bone fracture, subdural hemorrhage or hematoma, dislocation, sprain, internal injury, poisoning, burn, scald, or severe cut.
- Serious mental harm requires injury to a child’s mental condition that results in visible signs of impairment to the child’s judgment, behavior, ability to recognize reality, or ability to cope with the ordinary demands of life.
The prosecutor must prove not only that the parent or guardian knowingly or intentionally injured the child, but also the parent or guardian intended or knew that the result of his or her actions would cause serious harm to the child.
Often times, when a child has an unexplained serious injury, the parent will be charged with abuse. As skilled defense attorneys, we realize that there are many ways for a child to receive an unexplained injury. These include certain medical conditions, injury at the hands of another caregiver or sibling, or an accident where the parent was not present. Despite the fact that there are many possible explanations for an unexplained injury, the prosecutor will focus on the parent as the wrongdoer because they are the easiest target. It is important to quickly obtain competent representation to assist in defending against allegations of abuse or neglect.
Penalties for a conviction of child abuse in the first degree are the most serious out of the child abuse crimes. People convicted of this crime will have a felony on their records and will face up to 15 years in prison.
Second Degree Child Abuse
Second degree child abuse charges in Michigan stem from allegations of:
- committing a reckless act that resulted in serious physical harm to the child;
- knowingly or intentionally committing an act likely to cause serious physical or mental harm to the child, even if the child was not actually harmed; or
- knowingly or intentionally doing a cruel act to the child (“cruel” means brutal, inhumane, sadistic, or that which torments, even if the child is unharmed by the act).
Penalties for a conviction of child abuse in the second degree are not as harsh as they are for first degree, but they are still quite serious. People convicted of child abuse in the second degree will have a felony on their records and could spend up to 4 years in prison.
Third Degree Child Abuse
A third degree child abuse charge comes about when the defendant knowingly or intentionally commit an act against a child that caused physical harm. Unlike first and some second degree child abuse allegations, there is not a requisite showing of serious harm to the child. The prosecutor must simply show that the child has been harmed in some way.
Third degree child abuse is a felony. People convicted of child abuse in the third degree in Michigan face up to 2 years in prison.
Fourth Degree Child Abuse
Fourth degree child abuse, while still a very serious charge, is the least severe of the child abuse crimes. Fourth degree child abuse requires either of the following:
-the parent or guardian willfully failed to provide food, clothing, or shelter necessary to the child and that the child suffered physical harm as a result; or
-the parent or guardian committed a reckless act that resulted in physical harm to the child.
Again, unlike first degree and some of the second degree charges, serious harm is not required in order to show fourth degree child abuse.
Child abuse in the fourth degree is the least serious child abuse crime. However, these charges should still be taken seriously. People convicted of fourth degree child abuse in Michigan will have a misdemeanor on their records and face up to 1 year in jail.
Often times, if the alleged act is a sexual crime against a child, the defendant will be charged under one of the statutes for Criminal Sexual Conduct rather than child abuse/neglect laws.
Contrary to popular belief, corporal punishment—or punishment by force—is not illegal. However, this does not mean that a parent is entitled to use any amount of violence. The law permits a parent only to use force that can be considered reasonable. If you have been charged with abuse for using excessive force on your child, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the force used was not reasonable as discipline. Effective counsel is imperative for people charged with using excessive force to discipline their child.
A parent with parental rights over a child may not take or keep a child for more than 24 hours with the intent of keeping or concealing the child from the other parent or guardian. It is not considered parental kidnapping if you can prove that the purpose for taking the child was to protect the child from an immediate and actual threat of physical or mental harm, abuse, or neglect.
CHILDREN’S PROTECTIVE SERVICES
In addition to criminal penalties for the crimes enumerated above, a parent who has been arrested for child abuse or child sex crimes risks termination of his or her parental rights. A casual comment made by your child or a neighbor’s kid, a complaint by a student, a patient-doctor relationship gone bad, or a difficult divorce can all result in a potential Children’s Protective Services (CPS) investigation and possible termination of parental rights. It is you and your attorney alone who can turn the tide away from termination of parental rights.
It is possible that you could be acquitted of all criminal child abuse charges against your child and still be investigated by CPS. The reason for this is that the standard of proof in a CPS case is different from a criminal case, and the state is in a very powerful position to take your kids away. Do not let CPS do this! We have been fighting CPS for years, and are aggressive CPS defense attorneys.
In any CPS case, you can expect that there will be multiple people working against you, including the prosecutor, the guardian ad litem, the CPS investigator, social workers, and sometimes court-appointed psychologists/psychiatrists and medical doctors. The system is completely unbalanced in favor of the state, which is why charges or complaints of sexual crimes or other crimes of abuse and neglect against a child must be taken seriously and defended aggressively. Your attorney must not be afraid to challenge the CPS investigation or charges at every stage of the process. At Kronzek & Cronkright, we are not afraid to challenge Children’s Protective Services. We stand up for the rights of parents on a daily basis.
In Michigan, CPS workers may use very coercive and bullying tactics. They will often threaten to take your children away immediately if you fail to cooperate with their investigation. While they may promise you that they will try to keep your family together, they will be persistent in gathering information that can be used to tear your family apart. Any officer, county agent, or probation officer may, without court order, immediately take a child into custody if the “child’s surroundings are such as to endanger his or her health, morals, or welfare…”(MCL 712A.14). Moreover, you must be aware that allegations of abuse against one child may be used as evidence to remove or terminate your parental rights for another child, including kids that have not yet been born.
Even if CPS fails to terminate your parental rights, they may be able to keep your family within the jurisdiction of the court for a substantial amount of time. You might be allowed to see your children only for short periods of time and under constant supervision. Before you consider a guilty plea or consent to the jurisdiction of the court based on a promise that the state will not pursue termination of your parental rights, be sure you fully understand all of the consequences of your plea.
The vast majority of lawyers who handle these cases are court-appointed attorneys who are terrified of CPS and do not adequately protect the rights of their clients. At Kronzek & Cronkright, we’re not afraid of Children’s Protective Services. Our attorneys have a track record of success in CPS cases, and we are prepared to stand firm and protect your rights. Call or e-mail us today.
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