Child Abuse Charges
There are a number of charges a person can face when accused of intentionally or accidentally harming a child in Michigan. Even cases where the child came to no harm, but could have been hurt if the circumstances had been different, can result in child abuse charges. Some of these charges are criminal charges, and will result in the defendant spending some time in either jail or prison if convicted.
But some of the charges are brought by Child Protective Services, and are filed as petitions in Family Court. This doesn't result in incarceration, but rather in court involvement on behalf of the children. This can mean either less severe consequences, like court-mandated parenting classes, or more severe results, like the children being removed from the custody of their parents.
We have compiled a list of all of the possible charges a person can face here in Michigan, with regards to child abuse. This includes basic descriptions of each crime, and also sentencing guidelines for convicted persons.
First Degree Child Abuse
First degree child abuse is described as knowingly or intentionally inflicting "serious physical or mental harm" on a child. Physical harm in this category requires an injury that could be described as serious, including broken bones, burns, brain injuries, or internal injuries. Serious mental harm denotes harming a child's mental ability to cope with the demands of life, or impairing the child's judgment or behavior.
Under Michigan law, first degree child abuse is a felony punishable by up to life in prison, or any number of years.
Second Degree Child Abuse
Second Degree Child Abuse refers to a parent or guardian's willful failure to provide the food, clothing, or shelter that a child needs for their basic welfare, which then results in serious physical harm to the child. Or, it could also refer to knowingly or intentionally committing an act that is likely to cause serious physical or mental harm to the child, even if the child is not actually harmed. And finally, it can also mean knowingly or intentionally doing something that is considered to be "cruel" to a child. In this case, "cruel" means anything brutal, inhumane, sadistic, or tormenting.
Penalties for child abuse in the second degree include up to ten years in prison for first offenses, and up to twenty years in prison for all second and subsequent convictions.
Third Degree Child Abuse
Third Degree Child Abuse is when a person knowingly or intentionally does something that causes physical harm to a child. In this case, the prosecutor is required to prove that the child was actually harmed, not just placed at risk of harm.
Child abuse in the third degree is a felony under state law, and is punishable by imprisonment for up to two years.
Fourth Degree Child Abuse
Fourth Degree Child Abuse is when someone's reckless act or omission causes a child to be physically harmed, or if someone knowingly or intentionally does something that, under the circumstances, puts a child at risk of being harmed, even if nothing actually happens to that child.
Fourth Degree Child Abuse is a misdemeanor under Michigan law. It is punishable by up to one year in jail.
Child Sexually Abusive Material (Child Pornography)
Child Sexually Abusive Material, which is commonly referred to as Child Pornography, or "kiddie porn", is illegal under both Michigan and federal law. It refers to any image or video footage of a child in a sexual situation, or engaging in any form of sexual conduct. This could include fondling, masturbation, intercourse, passive sexual involvement, or erotic nudity.
Punishments for Child Pornography are determined by which crime the defendant is convicted of. There are many Child Pornography related crimes that are against the law in Michigan, including Producing (making) child pornography, Distribution (selling/sharing) of child pornography, and Possession (having/keeping) child pornography, which are all very serious felonies.
Child Endangerment refers to to any action or behavior a person engages in that places a child in imminent danger of bodily injury, mental or physical impairment, or death. It is usually charged in conjunction with a DUI, when a person is caught driving under the influence of alcohol with an underaged minor in the vehicle.
This is usually referred to as OWI Child Endangerment. Under Michigan law, first offense OWI Child Endangerment is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and fines up to $1,000. Second offenses are considered felonies, and are punishable by fines of up to $5,000. However, the law allows a Judge considerable leeway in determining incarceration time.
Abuse / Neglect
In Michigan, a Child Abuse and Neglect case can be handled criminally, which is what happens when the investigation was handled by the police, or civilly. In a civil case, the investigation is handled by a Child Protective Services worker, and usually goes through the family court.
In this instance, a petition is filed with the court by CPS. This begins the process by which CPS can require that a parent participate in court-mandated parenting or substance abuse classes in order to keep their own child. Or, in situations believed to be more severe, the agency may seek to terminate parental rights, which would mean that the parent in question loses their legal right to their child forever.
Having an abuse and neglect petition filed against you in family court can result in your children being removed from your care, either temporarily or permanently. It can also result in you being required to attend certain classes that CPS believes will address issues that are affecting your ability to parent safely and properly. This petition may or may not happen at the same time as a criminal case against you for child abuse.
Termination of Parental Rights
Termination of Parental Rights refers to a petition filed in the family court by Children’s Protective Services, that seeks to terminate a parent's rights to their own child. This means that, if the court chooses to terminate that parent's rights, they will no longer have any access to their child. In the eyes of the law, they will no longer be that child's parent, and can no longer have any contact with that child, or play any role in that child's upbringing. It is a permanent, irreversible decision that completely severs a parent's relationship with their child.
And while Termination of Parental Rights is not a criminal charge, in and of itself, the investigation and allegations that usually lead to a parent's rights being terminated are often accompanied by separate criminal charges for child abuse or neglect.