What are the Possible Penalties for Child Endangerment in New Jersey?

  • Criminal Defense

A child endangerment charge is taken quite seriously in New Jersey. Thanks to the possible penalties that you face, there can be a rather long time spent behind bars depending on the details of the case. If there is any sexual aspect to the case, the penalties will grow exponentially worse.

Which makes sense. After all, children aren’t capable of looking after themselves. It is the adult’s responsibility to take care of their children and failing to do so puts them in harm’s way. Often, there is nothing that the child could do differently as they rely on the adults in their life to help them navigate this scary world. Taking child endangerment so seriously is a way for the state to stand up for its children.

What Constitutes Child Abuse, Child Neglect and Child Endangerment in New Jersey?

Broadly speaking, New Jersey defines child abuse through the New Jersey Department of Children & Families as any physical, sexual or emotional harm (or risk of harm) that a child under the age of 18 faces that is caused by a parent or somebody acting as a caregiver for the child. Child endangerment occurs when a child is put into a situation wherein they face danger in this vein.

This is an important description because it highlights the relationship between the child and the one accused of endangering them. It also shows that when it comes to child abuse, neglect or endangerment, the emotional health of the child is also considered rather than just the physical or sexual health.

Some situations and actions which fall into these categories are:

  • Putting the child to work in a position which could lead to injury or sickness.
  • Exposing the child to physical injury.
  • Driving while under the influence with the child in the car.
  • Purposefully failing to provide food, clothing and shelter to the child.
  • Leaving the child with somebody with the intent of causing sexual harm to the child.
  • Willfully leaving the child with a known predator.
  • Isolating the child to the point of emotional harm.
  • Abandoning the child to fend for themselves.
  • Excessive use of physical restraint, especially when combined with other actions such as willfully underfeeding the child.
  • Letting other people perform indecent acts in front of or around the child.
  • Letting other children perform indecent acts in front of, around or to the child.

It can sometimes be quite difficult to distinguish between whether an action is child endangerment, child abuse or child neglect so it is not uncommon for somebody to find themselves facing multiple charges for their actions.

Must Your Actions be Intentional to be Charged with Child Endangerment?

Child endangerment laws are designed as a punishment for behavior which could cause a child to come into harm. As such, a child doesn’t need to actually be harmed in order for the charge to stick. If the child is placed into the situation where their health, morals, emotional well-being or life is endangered then the charge could be levelled. It can also be levelled in cases where the child did actually come to harm, too.

It is not enough that the child be endangered due to an accident or mistake. The situation in which a caregiver places a child must be more likely than not to cause them harm. For example, leaving a child with a Sunday school teacher would be considered fine and normal. If you later learned that the individual was hiding a history of sex crimes, you could look back and see that the situation counted as child endangerment. But the situation arose from a mistake in your perception (and a lack of clear information).

However, it is important to note that you don’t need to be acting with intention to be charged with child endangerment. If the actions you took would look to any reasonable person as to place the child in a dangerous situation then you could still be charged. Neglecting to take in the situation is not an excuse. Keep in mind, the example in the paragraph above would not be considered unreasonable to a normal person.

What are the Penalties for Endangering the Welfare of a Child in New Jersey?

The penalties for child endangerment in New Jersey can cover quite a range. This is because the crime comes in a few different degrees. The worst penalties are reserved for when there is a sexual element to the charge, as this then falls into the realm of Megan’s Law.

The penalties for child endangerment in New Jersey cover:

  • Fine: A fine for child endangerment in the third degree could see you having to pay a fine up to $15,000. Which seems like a lot until you realize child endangerment of the second degree could result in a fine of $150,000.
  • Prison: Third degree charges could see you sentenced to up to five years in prison. Second degree charges will land you between five to ten years behind bars.
  • Megan’s Law: A sexual component to the crime could see you having to register as a sex offender under Megan’s Law. This would require you to register annually with the local law enforcement, report when you change addresses and possibly have your identity made public.
  • Parole Supervision for Life: A sexual component to the crime also may land you under parole supervision for life which could see limitations put on your ability to access the internet and other consequences. If you commit further crimes, the punishments will be worse.

How Do I Defend Myself Against a Child Endangerment Charge?

The best way to defend yourself is to hire somebody who has experience in cases like yours. It is always better to go at it with somebody that knows what they’re doing than it is to try alone. Here at The Hernandez Law Firm we know what we’re doing and we’re always ready to help defend you. Give us a call at (732) 582-5076 to see how we can help.

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