Child Abuse Defense Lawyers

Protecting children from harm is crucial to our society as a whole, so hearing allegations of child abuse induces very strong emotional reactions. At times, this can mean swiftly jumping to conclusions about the alleged perpetrator with little examination of evidence or presumption of innocence.

Such allegations and potential charges should be handled with extreme care. Raleigh based criminal defense lawyers Raymond Tarlton and Brad Polk have a deep understanding and expertise in handling sensitive cases involving child abuse in all its forms. They know just how damaging these allegations alone can be, not to mention the steep criminal and civil penalties for a conviction. Their extensive trial experience has enabled them to steer the court from swift judgements towards carefully examining the facts before assigning guilt to anybody.

suspect of child abuse, facing alleged child victim

Child Abuse Charges and Related Crimes in North Carolina

Child abuse occurs when a parent or caregiver causes harm to a child, whether through action or failure to act (neglect). North Carolina law has developed over time to recognize a wide variety of ways children can be harmed by the actions or neglect by their parents or caregivers. The law even goes as far to criminalize some actions or inaction that have the potential to expose a child to serious harm, even if the child was not harmed.

Below are some details on the kinds of child abuse charges a person could face in North Carolina.

Child Abuse Crimes

North Carolina has two laws that specifically address child abuse, one which punishes it as a misdemeanor and the other a felony.

Misdemeanor Child Abuse

A parent or guardian of a child under 16 years is guilty of misdemeanor child abuse if they inflict physical injury, allow the infliction of physical injury, or create risk of physical injury upon their child that is not caused by accident.

A conviction of this crime is punished as a class A1 misdemeanor. If convicted, the defendant can and likely will still face civil penalties and even other related criminal penalties for the act of violence.

Felony Child Abuse

Child abuse is changes from a misdemeanor to a felony under the following circumstances:

  • Intentionally inflicting “serious physical injury” upon the child – class D felony
  • Intentionally inflicting “serious bodily injury” to the child – class B2 felony
  • Negligent acts or inaction that results in “serious physical injury” to the child – class E felony
  • Negligent acts or inaction that results in “serious bodily injury” to the child – class G felony
  • Prostituting the child, or allowing sexual acts to be performed on them – class D felony

The term “serious physical injury” means any injury that causes great pain and suffering. Despite the term including “physical”, it actually includes serious mental and emotional harm.

“Serious bodily injury” means a physical injury that creates a substantial risk of death or causes serious permanent disfigurement, coma, extreme pain,long-term impairment of a body part, or needing prolonged hospitalization.

Neglect and Exposure to Danger

While acts of gross negligence that lead actual harm fall under North Carolina’s child abuse laws, there are also laws criminalizing acts of neglect that can expose children to danger. These dangers can include exposing a child to tobacco products and other drugs, hazardous situations like fire, dangerous weapons and firearms and more.

Most of these crimes are misdemeanors, though some crimes, such as selling a handgun to a child, are felonies. A unique form of potentially exposing a child to danger is the failure to report a child missing to law enforcement.

Failure to Report a Child as Missing

If a parent or somebody supervising a child knowingly and wantonly fails to report the disappearance of the child to law enforcement, they will be guilty of a class I felony.

If a person reasonably suspects the child has disappeared and may be in danger but fails to report those suspicions to law enforcement in a reasonable time, they will be guilty of a class 1 misdemeanor.

This law does have some exceptions, namely that it does not require teachers to report to law enforcement if a child is absent, so long as the teacher reports the absence through the school administration.

Non-support and Abandonment

Non-support and abandonment refers to escaping or eluding one’s lawful obligation to support a dependent child.

This crime can either be a misdemeanor or felony. If a parent willfully neglects or refuses to provide adequate support for their child as required by law, they will be guilty of a class 2 misdemeanor for a first-time offense, or a class 1 misdemeanor for a repeat offense.

If a parent willfully abandons their child or children for six months or more, fails to provide adequate support, and attempts to conceal his or her whereabouts from the child or children with the intent to escape parental obligation, that parent will be guilty of a class I felony.

This law does not apply to lawfully giving one’s child up for an adoption when they are less than a week old, or otherwise lawfully transferring custody of a child and relinquishing duties of support.

Violations of Custody Requirements

Courts take custody of children seriously, so violation of court custody orders can at times be a criminal offense.

The most common offense in this category is when somebody who does not have custody of a child under the age of 16 transports the child across state-lines for greater than 72 hours with the intent to violate the custody order. This generally occurs when a parent who lost custody or has limited custody that would not allow such travel does so in direct disregard of the order. This crime is taken seriously and a conviction is punished as a class I felony.

It is also a crime to unlawfully transfer a child in one’s custody to another without pursuing legal avenues. Legal transfer of custody generally encompasses legal adoption, transfer to a relative, or to the custody of an institution that can care for children (e.g. foster care, boarding schools, camp programs). A conviction of this crime is punished as a class A1 misdemeanor if the child was unharmed, or a class G felony if the child suffered serious physical injury.

Defending Against Child Abuse Charges

As child abuse cases are very emotion-driven and the odds can be stacked against the accused despite our law’s presumption of innocence. This is one of many reasons why you need to reach out to an experienced attorney before discussing the case with anybody else, as you need an expert lawyer to examine the evidence as soon as possible. 

At Tarlton | Polk we tailor our defense strategy to account for every detail of the case. We have the experience of both working with prosecutors to get charges dismissed pretrial, or fighting in trial to reduce or drop charges against our clients.

If you are facing an investigation or have been charged with any form of child abuse in North Carolina, give our dedicated team a call or leave us a consultation request.

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