Few topics can create more heated debates than how to discipline your child. In North Carolina, a parent can discipline a child by spanking that child. However, a parent inflicting physical injury during the course of discipline might face a criminal charge of misdemeanor child abuse. Misdemeanor child abuse is a serious charge and can result in jail time. You should not try to defend a charge of misdemeanor child abuse on your own. The sooner you contact Mr. Rosensteel, the sooner he can begin to prepare your best defense.
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Misdemeanor Child Abuse Definition
A person commits misdemeanor child abuse when they either are the parent of a child under 16 years of age or provide care or supervision to such a child (like a babysitter) and either (1) inflict physical injury, (2) allow physical injury to be inflicted, or (3) allow a substantial risk of physical injury to be created upon such child. If a person is convicted of misdemeanor child abuse, they are guilty of a Class A1 misdemeanor.
The crime of misdemeanor child abuse is found in G.S. 14-318.2(a) which states that
Any parent of a child less than 16 years of age, or any other person providing care to or supervision of such child, who inflicts physical injury, or who allows physical injury to be inflicted, or who creates or allows to be created a substantial risk of physical injury, upon or to such child by other than accidental means is guilty of the Class A1 misdemeanor of child abuse.
The punishment for a Class A1 misdemeanor ranges from 1-150 days, depending on prior convictions. While a person with no prior convictions might receive a community punishment (meaning punishment that does not include active jail time and also does not require drug treatment or special probation), he might also receive an active punishment (meaning jail time). This means that a person with no prior convictions can be sentenced to up to 60 days of jail time if he is found guilty of misdemeanor child abuse.
A charge of misdemeanor child abuse might be raised when a third party discovers physical injury to the child. So what is physical injury? The North Carolina Child Protective Services Manual lists signs of child abuse as “significant trauma and tissue damage, such as bruises, welts, or lacerations.” Sometimes a doctor observing a child’s injuries might conclude that the child suffers from “battered child syndrome,” meaning that the child’s injuries are of such a nature that they were not suffered by accidental means.
One element of the North Carolina misdemeanor child abuse statute requires that for a person to be guilty of misdemeanor child abuse, the State must prove that such person inflicted the physical injury upon the child. This proof might seem difficult. However, North Carolina courts have determined that where an adult is caring for a child and during that time the child suffers injuries that are neither self-inflicted or accidental, a presumption is raised that the adult inflicted the injuries.
Allowing Physical Injury
A person can be convicted of misdemeanor child abuse without inflicting any injury upon a child. If a person caring for a child allows another person to inflict injury upon that child, the caretaker can be convicted of misdemeanor child abuse. However, to allow another person to inflict injury, the State must prove that the person caring for the child knew or should have known that the injury was being inflicted. The caretaker’s knowledge is determined from looking at all of the facts and circumstances in the particular case. North Carolina courts have stated that relevant factors in making this determination include: “the proximity of the party charged to the place of the incident; his or her opportunity to see, hear, or otherwise become aware of the occurrence; the relationship of all parties involved; the behavioral pattern and history of the parties; and any other relevant fact which might give rise to an inference that the party charged knew or could have known that physical injury was in fact being inflicted on a child.”
Substantial Risk of Physical Injury
There is another way that a person can be guilty of misdemeanor child abuse without inflicting any injury upon a child. If a person creates a substantial risk of physical injury to the child, the person can be guilty of misdemeanor child abuse. North Carolina courts have held that conduct creating a substantial risk of harm in the context of child neglect includes alcohol and drug abuse. In addition, a misdemeanor child abuse conviction was upheld where a father “exposed his two-year-old daughter to illegal substances and placed her in the presence of a deadly weapon while impeding a police investigation intended to assure the child’s well-being.”
Defense of Accident
One defense that a person charged with misdemeanor child abuse might raise is that the injury was accidentally inflicted upon the child. For an injury to be inflicted accidentally, the injury must be unintentional and have occurred during the course of lawful conduct. In addition, the injury cannot have been inflicted through “culpable negligence” which is defined by North Carolina Pattern Jury Instructions as “such gross negligence or carelessness as imparts a thoughtless disregard of consequences or a heedless indifference to the safety and rights of others.”