Child Abuse Crimes in Florida

If you were falsely accused of physically abusing a child, you might be questioned by the child’s teacher, a doctor or nurse, a child protection investigator, or a law enforcement officer. Before discussing any criminal allegation, talk with an experienced attorney about protecting your rights at each stage of the investigation.

Your attorney can help you navigate the process of cooperating with any Child Protection Investigator or DCF investigator.

Act quickly. An attorney can help you protect you and your family from a false or exaggerated allegation. Because of the potential criminal punishments under Florida law related to this charge, any accusation of child abuse is serious.

Depending on the way the crime was committed and the mental or physical injury inflicted, the crime of child abuse or aggravated child abuse under Florida Statutes Section 827.03, may be charged as a third degree, second degree, or first degree felony.

Attorneys for Child Abuse Crimes in Tampa, FL

If you have been accused of child abuse or aggravated child abuse in Tampa, Hillsborough County, FL, or a surrounding county, then contact the experienced criminal defense lawyers at the Sammis Law Firm.

The five attorneys in our office, Jason Sammis, Leslie Sammis, Joshua Montiero, Katherine Aranda, and Dominique Celerin, are experienced in representing clients charged with crimes of violence.

Our attorneys represent clients throughout the greater Tampa Bay area, including Tampa or Plant City in Hillsborough County, Clearwater or St. Petersburg in Pinellas County, Dade City or New Port Richey in Pasco County, or Brooksville in Hernando County, FL.

These charges are particularly severe if you are a teacher or certified educator, nurse or healthcare professional, lawyer, member of the military, or if you work for a law enforcement agency.

If you want to speak directly with an attorney in our office, call 813-250-0500 today.

First Appearance Hearings for Child Abuse Crimes

In Hillsborough County, the charge is often listed as “CHILD ABUSE (CHAB1602),” a third-degree felony with a standard bond amount of $2,000.00.

According to Administrative Order S-2021-025, entered on April 20, 2021, if you are arrested for Aggravated Child Abuse in Hillsborough County, FL, you will not be released on a bail bond before your first appearance hearing.

Instead, the judge presiding at the first appearance hearing will determine the appropriate amount of bail bond and pre-trial release conditions.

Elements of the Criminal Charge of Child Abuse

When the child abuse allegation involves knowingly or willfully abusing a child without causing great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement, then the crime can be charged as a felony in the third degree, punishable by five (5) years in Florida State Prison and a $1,000 fine.

For the charge of child abuse, the prosecutor for the State of Florida must prove two elements at trial beyond a reasonable doubt. First, the alleged victim must be under the age of 18. Second, the prosecutor must prove that the person did one of the following acts:

  1. intentionally inflicted physical or mental injury upon the alleged victim;
  2. committed an intentional act that could reasonably be expected to result in physical or mental injury to the alleged victim; or
  3. actively encouraged another person to commit an act that resulted in or could reasonably have been expected to result in physical or mental injury to the victim.

Aggravated Child Abuse under Section § 827.03

Aggravated Child Abuse is a felony in the first degree punishable by 30 years in Florida State Prison. To prove the crime of Aggravated Child Abuse by committing Aggravated Battery upon a child, the prosecutor for the State of Florida must prove the following three elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. The defendant committed battery against the child by intentionally striking the child against the child’s will, causing harm to the child;
  2. While committing the battery, the defendant did one of the following:
    • Intentionally or knowingly caused the victim either:
      • great bodily harm;
      • permanent disability;
      • permanent disfigurement; or
    • Used a deadly weapon, which is defined as a weapon used or threatened to be used in a way likely to produce death or great bodily harm.

A person who commits aggravated child abuse commits a felony of the first degree punishable by 30 years in Florida State Prison.

“Aggravated child abuse” might also occur when a person:

  1. Willfully tortures, maliciously punishes, or willfully and unlawfully cages a child; or
  2. Knowingly or willfully abuses a child and, in so doing, causes great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement to the child.

If you are arrested for any Aggravated Child Abuse, then you will not be released on a bail bond until after your first appearance hearing. The judge presiding at the first appearance hearing will determine the appropriate amount of bail bond, if any.

“Aggravated child abuse is largely determined on a case-by-case basis rather than with bright-line rules as to what conduct does and does not constitute aggravated child abuse.” Cox v. State, 1 So. 3d 1220, 1222 (Fla. 2d DCA. 2009) (citing Herbert v. State, 526 So. 2d 709, 712 (Fla. 4th DCA 1988)).

“This flexibility is critical to allow for consideration of such factors as the age of the victim, the frequency of prohibited conduct, and other circumstances relevant to a particular case.” Id. at 1222-23 (emphasis added).

Is Spanking a Child is “Child Abuse” under Florida law?

Proverbs 13:24 provides: “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” However, in Florida, using the rod for careful discipline may result in a child abuse investigation.

The unwritten rule used by law enforcement, child protective services, and the prosecutors with the State Attorney’s Office is that if the spanking (corporal punishment) left a mark anywhere other than the buttocks, then the act can constitute “child abuse” under Florida law.

However, that unwritten rule leads to many innocent parents being arrested for charges that can not ultimately be proven.

At common law, one standing in loco parentis had the right “to moderately chastise for correction a child under his or her control and authority.” Raford v. Florida, 828 So.2d 1012, 1015 n. 5 (Florida 2002). Nothing in section 827.03, or any related Florida statute, abolishes that right.

In Raford v. State, 828 So.2d 1012 (Fla.2002), the Florida Supreme Court reviewed the case law interpreting Florida’s child abuse laws and their interplay of those laws with the common law parental privilege of corporal punishment.

As the majority correctly notes, Raford recognized that, at common law, a parent or one standing in loco parentis (such as a teacher) had the right to reasonably discipline a child under his or her control and authority.

Citing this language in Raford, the Florida Supreme Court concludes that “[n]othing in section 827.03, or any related statute, abolishes that right. While a teacher may be subject to disciplinary charges for violating the school board’s employment policy, that policy should not trump the argument that certain conduct has not violated the criminal law.”

The “Parental Authority” Defense for Florida Child Abuse Cases

Since any offensive touching is a battery under Florida law, what happens when parents spank their children? Technically speaking, they can assert Florida’s “parental authority” defense.

Consistent with Florida’s child abuse statutory scheme and pursuant to the Florida Supreme Court’s decision in Raford, a defendant charged with child abuse under 827.03(1) may raise as an affirmative defense the parental privilege of corporal punishment by establishing that:

1. defendant is the parent of the child or one who stands in loco parentis;

2. defendant’s actions constitute corporal punishment; and

3. the corporal punishment utilized was “reasonable” or “nonexcessive.”

The “logo parentis” doctrine, recognized under Florida law, conveys this right to any person standing in for parent, including a relative, babysitting, or teacher.

Statutory Factors Considered When Prosecuting Child Abuse Cases in Florida

This unwritten rule used by law enforcement is often a much lower standard than “intentionally inflicting physical injury” or “committing an intentional act that could reasonably be expected to result in physical injury.” Furthermore, Florida law recognizes a parent’s right to discipline a child with a spanking.

Factors considered in any child abuse investigation involving a parent spanking a child include:

  1. The age of the child;
  2. The number of times the child was struck;
  3. How the child was struck and whether an object such as a belt, rod, or switch was used;
  4. Whether the spanking left a mark such as a red mark, abrasion, bruise, or welt;
  5. Any history of prior allegations of child abuse or neglect; and
  6. The parent’s criminal history or lack thereof.

If you are being investigated for spanking your child in Florida, it is important to speak to a qualified child abuse attorney in the Tampa Bay area. Call us to discuss how to protect yourself, your child, and your family from this serious allegation.

Find more information in our article on frequently asked questions in child abuse cases. Learn more about the charge of leaving a child unattended.

Can You Seal or Expunge the Neglect of a Child Charge?

Although most misdemeanor convictions will not prevent you from sealing or expunging another qualified criminal history record, a misdemeanor conviction for neglect of a child under Section 827.03(1)(e) is particularly serious because it will automatically prohibit you from being eligible to seal or expunge any other record.

If the neglect of a child under Section 827.03(1)(e) charge is dropped or dismissed, then you might be eligible to expunge the record, but only if you have no other convictions in Florida that would disqualify you for this type of relief.

On the other hand, if you are “convicted” of any form of neglect of a child, even a misdemeanor under Section 827.03(1)(e), then you will never be eligible to seal or expunge that record.

In fact, although most misdemeanor convictions will not prevent you from sealing or expunging another arrest record, even a misdemeanor “conviction” for neglect of a child under Section 827.03(1)(e) will automatically prohibit you from being eligible to seal or expunge the record.

For this reason, it is important to avoid a “conviction” by getting the court to withhold adjudication. If you get a withhold of adjudication and successfully complete probation, then you might be eligible to seal the record.

If you have questions about whether you can seal or expunge an arrest record after an arrest for child neglect, then contact the criminal defense attorneys at Sammis Law Firm in Tampa, FL.

Civil Lawsuits for Child Abuse

When a child suffers from physical or sexual abuse, the victim can often pursue a civil lawsuit for money damages. Florida’s child abuse reporting statute in Section 39.201 establishes a duty to children. The breach of that duty can be the foundation for a civil lawsuit.

For example, if an employee of the school district finds out about abuse and fails to alert the proper authorities, the school district and its employees might be held liable in civil court.

School districts can also be held liable under Title IX for sexual harassment or assaults when school officials with the authority to intervene fail to act or act with deliberate indifference when they were aware of sexual harassment.

The harassment was severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive to the point it prohibited the ability to receive an education.

Types of Child Abuse Charges

The most common types of child abuse charges in Florida include:

  • 8270B – 827.03(1) – CHILD ABUSE
  • 8270B1 – 827.03(2) – AGGRAVATED CHILD ABUSE
  • 8270A – 827.03(3)(C) – NEGLECT OF A CHILD
  • 632B – 63.212(4) – FAILURE OF INTERMEDIARY (to report intended placement of a child)
  • 632C – 63.212(5) – FAILURE OF INTERMEDIARY (obtain prior approval – expenses>$2500)
  • 7870D – 787.03(2) – INTERFERENCE WITH CUSTODY
  • 7870D1 – 787.03(1) – INTERFERENCE WITH CUSTODY

Child Abuse for Being DUI with a Child Passenger

If a child was present in the vehicle during a DUI, the driver might also be charged with child abuse under Florida Statute Section 827.03(2), especially if a crash occurred.

In many cases, the arresting officer will make an arrest for both DUI with a child passenger and child abuse.

Your attorney might be able to convince the prosecutor to drop the child abuse allegation because there is a more specific statute dealing with children being in the car during a DUI.

In fact, Florida Statute §316.193(4) states:

Any person who is convicted of a violation of subsection (1) and …who at the time of the offense was accompanied in the vehicle by a person under the age of 18 years, shall be punished:

(a) By a fine of:

1. Not less than $1,000 or more than $2,000 for a first conviction.

2. Not less than $2,000 or more than $4,000 for a second conviction.

3. Not less than $4,000 for a third or subsequent conviction.

(b) By imprisonment for:

1. Not more than 9 months for a first conviction.

2. Not more than 12 months for a second conviction.

For the charge to qualify for Child Abuse under 827.03(2), the statute requires an “intentional act” that could reasonably be expected to result in physical or mental injury to a child.

Most DUI cases with a child passenger would not qualify for additional Child Abuse changes because it is not reasonable to expect that the child would be injured, especially if the child was appropriately secured in a child safety seat.

Consider the fact that in 2017, the Florida Traffic Crash Statistics Summary showed 403,626 accidents in Florida. Out of those cases, 5,106 were deemed to be alcohol-related. Out of those 5,106 cases, only 1,753 involved an injury. This data shows that only 0.04% of these accidents were alcohol-related and involved injuries.

As the data shows, it is not reasonable to expect that a child would be injured in those cases. Instead, the Florida Legislature made a specific DUI statute section to deal with these types of allegations involving a child passenger in a DUI case and required enhanced sanctions and a higher statutory maximum penalty.

Additional Resources

Children’s Crisis Center of Tampa for Hillsborough County, FL – The Children’s Crisis Center, located at 2212 East Henry Avenue, Tampa, FL 33610, is a non-profit program that provides supervised treatment for children who are in crisis when a parent is accused of domestic battery or child abuse. The Tampa Children’s Crisis Center provides services to children as young as five (5) years old and as old as seventeen (17) years old. The program includes a team of Board Certified adolescent/child registered nurses with psychiatric experience; child psychiatrists, master-level clinicians, case managers, and certified educational teachers. Although the program is private, it receives public funding and works with the Department of Children and Families and the Child Protective Investigators with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.

Child Protection Team in Hillsborough County – To facilitate the medical portion of the investigation, the majority of sexual abuse examinations of children will be conducted by the Child Protection Team of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. These examinations take place at the Children’s Justice Center, located at 2806 N. Armenia Avenue, Suite 500. During non-business hours the phone number for the on-call Child Protection Team Member is answered 24-hours a day. The HCSO Child Protective Investigations Division is responsible for investigating cases involving child abuse, child neglect, and child abandonment.

Finding an Attorney for Child Abuse Crimes in Hillsborough County, FL

When a person batters a child and such action is clearly not done for disciplinary reasons, the act constitutes child abuse and not simple battery.

Contact an experienced child abuse attorney at the Sammis Law Firm, in Tampa, FL, if you are charged with this serious criminal offense. We fight these types of felony offenses in Hillsborough County and the surrounding areas throughout the greater Tampa Bay area.

Our attorneys also represent clients on related charges for false imprisonment and kidnapping.

Never make a statement to any law enforcement officers about the facts of the case. Instead, talk to a criminal defense attorney who can explain your side of the story and present exculpatory or mitigating evidence to help your case.

Call (813) 250-0500.

This article was last updated on Friday, April 19, 2024.