Child abuse or neglect is a very serious charge. It is a very broadly defined crime and has a wide range of potential punishments, depending upon a number of factors.
NRS 200.508 is Nevada’s criminal statute for child abuse and neglect. The statute doesn’t clearly distinguish between abuse and neglect, and actually defines abuse and neglect collectively. That is, NRS 200.508(4)(a) defines “abuse or neglect” as “physical or mental injury of a nonaccidental nature… under circumstances which indicate that the child’s health or welfare is harmed or threatened with harm.”
NRS 200.508 does distinguish between two types of abuse or neglect: (1) active abuse or neglect, where an individual “willfully causes a child… to suffer unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering,” and (2) passive abuse or neglect, a person is responsible for the safety or welfare of a child and “permits or allows that child to suffer unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering.” Thus, you can be charged with abuse or neglect for causing harm directly to a child, or by letting someone else cause harm to that child if you are legally responsible for that child. A concrete example of the difference between passive and active abuse/neglect might be, on the one hand, hitting a child with an extension cord (active), and on the other hand, leaving your child with someone who hits the child (passive). You might ask, why does this distinction between “active” and “passive” abuse/neglect make a difference? The answer is that it makes a difference in the potential punishment.
“Active” child abuse (e.g. hitting a child) that results in substantial bodily harm or substantial mental harm to the child is a category B felony and is punishable by a prison term of 2 to 20 years. If no substantial bodily or mental harm results, then the offense is still a category B felony, but is punishable by a prison sentence of 1 to 6 years. However, if the defendant has a prior conviction for child abuse or neglect, then the offense is punishable by 2 to 15 years in prison, even if the child is not substantially harmed.
“Passive” child abuse or neglect (e.g. a parent knowingly leaving a child with an abusive caretaker) may be punishable as either a category B felony, category C felony, or a gross misdemeanor, depending on whether the child suffered substantial bodily or mental harm and whether the defendant has a prior conviction for child abuse. Specifically, passive child abuse/neglect that results in substantial bodily harm is a category B felony, punishable by 2 to 20 years in prison. Passive child abuse that does not result in substantial bodily or mental harm to the child is a gross misdemeanor, unless the defendant has previously been convicted of child abuse/neglect. With a prior conviction, passive child abuse is a category C felony punishable by 1 to 5 years in state prison, even when no substantial bodily or mental harm occurs.
If you have read about the potential punishments for child abuse or neglect listed above, you realize how serious an accusation for this crime is. False allegations for child abuse or neglect occur more often than prosecutors may believe, for many different reasons, and sometimes the conduct alleged in the complaint does not amount to child abuse or neglect at all. So if you have been charged with child abuse or neglect, call me today to talk about potential defenses to your case.
By Michael Pandullo