The crime of child endangerment occurs when a person places a minor child in their care in a dangerous situation where death or serious harm is likely to occur. It is sometimes paired with other criminal charges, such as assault and DUI, when an adult has harmed a child for whom they are responsible. The adult, having assumed responsibility for the child, must look after their well-being. If they place the child in harm’s way, they can be charged. There are many types of activities which can be considered child endangerment.

Although laws and penalties for child endangerment vary from state to state, it is a serious charge everywhere. It may be classified as a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the law in the state where the crime is committed. Sentences may range from months to years, but the circumstances of the case will always be taken into consideration.

Therefore, the more outrageous the circumstances of the crime, the greater the penalty is likely to be. This is particularly true in cases where courts are considered that the risk to a child is ongoing. Parents can lose rights to their children if they are convicted of child endangerment.

What are Examples of Child Endangerment?

Once again, laws will vary by state as to what is considered child endangerment. The following are some examples of activities that tend to be classified as endangerment across the board:

  • Leaving a child in an unsafe neighborhood or area;
  • Failing to supervise a child due to alcohol or drug intoxication;
  • Leaving a child alone in a vehicle, particularly when the weather is very hot;
  • Leaving the child with a known abuser;
  • Driving while intoxicated (or under the influence of various substances) with a child in the vehicle;
  • Serving alcohol to an underage driver;
  • Having weapons in the home that children can access;
  • Leaving a young child unsupervised or in the care of another young child;
  • Manufacturing drugs in a home where a child lives;
  • Failure to report suspected child abuse;
  • Engaging in sexual activity in front of a child; and
  • Not observing proper vehicle safety for a child-using car seats or booster seats

Child endangerment can result not only from an adult’s actions, but from their failure to act. For instance, if a caregiver intentionally fails to give a child a necessary medication, this could be considered child endangerment.

How Does Child Endangerment Relate to DUI Charges?

DUI, or driving under the influence of alcohol, is one of the crimes which tends to be paired with child endangerment. If an adult who is convicted of DUI had a minor in their care and in the car at the time of their arrest, it is likely that child endangerment charges will be pressed, as well. Similar charges may be brought for cases where the parent was driving while distracted or driving recklessly.

What is Child Endangerment with Drug Paraphernalia?

Generally speaking, it is child endangerment to expose children to any aspect of drug use or manufacture/distribution. Therefore, if a parent is charged with selling a drug, for example, it will bring up the issue of child endangerment, as well. The courts will, in this case, consider the seriousness of the crime and the future welfare of the child.

What Must Be Shown to Prove Child Endangerment?

In order to establish child endangerment, the following elements must be present in the situation:

  • The child must be in the care of someone who has assumed responsibility for them, such as a parent, child care worker or family member who is babysitting.
  • The child must be shown to have been placed in a situation by the caregiver who then endangered them. Or,
  • The caregiver may have caused the endangerment by failing to act.

The danger must be real and imminent, beyond the level of a mistake, although the child does not have to actually suffer injury for the charge to be proven. It is enough to show that they were placed in danger by their caregiver. Intent does not have to be shown; rather, the court will ask what a reasonable adult in the situation would have done.

What are Some Defenses for a Child Endangerment Charge?

The following are some common defenses raised by someone who has been charged with child endangerment:

  • Calling into question whether the child was actually in imminent danger;
  • Calling into question the relationship between the adult and the child, and whether the adult had actually assumed the role of their caregiver; and/or
  • Contributory negligence by the child’s parent or legal guardian who had knowledge that should have prevented them leaving their child with the adult being charged with endangerment

Do I Need an Attorney If I Am Facing Charges for Child Endangerment?

Child endangerment is a serious crime. If you have been charged with this crime, you should contact a criminal defense attorney. Alternatively, if your child has been endangered by someone else, you may also wish to speak with an attorney to discuss your rights and options.