Colorado Child Abuse Charges
What’s at stake when you’ve been accused
Your life changes the moment you are accused of child abuse. It is deeply upsetting, and the stress can be overwhelming. On top of the threat of jail or prison, you may be separated from your child by a criminal protection order. Social services may be evaluating whether to limit your parental rights, your child’s teachers may treat you suspiciously, and your relationship with family members may be strained. Similarly, a conviction for child abuse is a stain on your record that you may spend the rest of your life explaining to employers, courts, and family members.
Child abuse is often charged without much evidence
The stress of being accused is made more frustrating by the fact that child abuse charges can be based on very little. In Colorado, child abuse can mean anything from truly horrific treatment of a child to leaving the child in a car for 5 minutes while you ran into a store, or smoking marijuana in an apartment while the child slept. You may even be charged with child abuse if a child was merely nearby when you allegedly committed another crime, such as domestic violence. Sometimes a bitter divorce or custody battle turns into war, and a desperate parent may fabricate an accusation of child abuse.
Mandatory reporting laws may compound the problem. A child abuse investigation may begin with a nurse or school teacher, who are required by law to report certain injuries and suspicions. The problem is that the nurse or teacher often has no idea what is really going on with the child—does the child tell stories for attention, does the child bruise easily on the playground? Due to mandatory reporting laws, and general concern for children, people report to the police even weak suspicions of child abuse.
Help is available
This is an ordeal, but one that you can get through with help. A criminal lawyer with experience in child abuse cases is critical. You need a lawyer who understands how to deal with the far-reaching consequences of child abuse allegations. You also need him to be an experienced trial lawyer, because many of these cases can be won if you are well represented. Do not make the mistake of thinking your family lawyer can handle your criminal case.
Matthew Hand is a compassionate criminal lawyer. Whether you made a mistake and you want to limit the fallout from that mistake, or whether you have been falsely charged, Matthew Hand is your ally and will help you. He has handled dozens of criminal child abuse cases, and has a good understanding of the Colorado social services cases that accompany them. Most importantly, he is a skilled trial lawyer who has gone to verdict on multiple child abuse cases. He is ready to defend you.
Child abuse definitions and penalties
There are different levels of child abuse that you can be charged with in Colorado. Child abuse is considered an extraordinary risk crime in Colorado, and there are enhanced sentences upon conviction. The child abuse statute is very broad, and it is impossible to describe every behavior that could constitute child abuse. For exact statutory language, see section 18-6-401 of Colorado Revised Statutes.
Class 3 misdemeanor: with criminal negligence, a person unreasonably puts a child in a dangerous situation, but no injury results.
Class 2 misdemeanor: knowingly or recklessly, a person unreasonably puts a child in a dangerous situation, OR with criminal negligence, a person causes injury to a child.
Class 1 misdemeanor: knowingly or recklessly, a person causes injury to a child.
Class 4 felony: with criminal negligence, a person causes serious bodily injury to a child.
Class 3 felony: knowingly or recklessly, a person causes serious bodily injury to a child, OR with criminal negligence, a person causes death to a child.
Class 2 felony: knowingly or recklessly, a person causes death to a child.
For more information or a free consultation, call (303) 900-8480 today.
How I Defend Child Abuse Charges
Child abuse charges are very unique, and demand a criminal trial lawyer with experience in the area. My first goal when I meet with a client is to understand what happened, but also to learn about how this case (and any possible plea deal) would affect your family and career. The collateral consequences from even a minor child abuse conviction can be profound, and it is important to start working on those right away. There may be a plea arrangement that you can live with if it saves your job and gets your kid back. If the DA will not make a fair and acceptable offer, or if you have a good defense, we go to trial.
Will the child testify?
There are several factors, unique to child abuse cases, that affect how I investigate your case and defend you at trial. First of all, the alleged victim is a child under the age of 16. Sometimes the child understands what happened, sometimes the child doesn’t. Sometimes the child can testify, but sometimes the child is too young, doesn’t communicate well, or would be traumatized if called to the stand. Both the DA and you may wish to limit the emotional trauma caused by having a child testify in a criminal trial against a family member, and this will greatly affect plea negotiations and trial strategy.
Perfect parenting is not required
Second, it is important to educate the DA and jury that criminal charges are not justified simply because a parent did not handle a situation perfectly. The law states that child abuse is committed only when, at a minimum, a person acts with criminal negligence. Criminal negligence is a “gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would exercise”, whereby a person “fails to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk…” Colorado Revised Statutes 18-1-501. A criminal lawyer can help develop evidence to show that under the circumstances, a parent’s actions were not criminally negligent, even if they were not perfect. Investigation and expert opinions can help in this matter.
Spanking is legal in Colorado
Third, many cases turn on whether discipline of a child was excessive. Hitting a child is not necessarily illegal in Colorado– parents and guardians have permission to use “reasonable and appropriate” force to discipline a child. Unfortunately, “reasonable and appropriate” is not defined anywhere. It is up to the jury to decide if you went too far in your discipline. Not surprisingly, different jurors have very different attitudes about what is reasonable and appropriate. Some people never hit a child themselves, but understand that some spanking is not criminal. Moreover, many of these people have never dealt with a truly out of control child, and they can develop sympathy for a defendant who was dealing with an aggressive and violent teenager. Other jurors are much more traditional, and believe that a kid that gets way out of line needs physical discipline. But even these people will have strong ideas about what constitutes excessive force. A trial lawyer’s challenge is to tell your story through the evidence of a case, and to be persuasive to people with widely different beliefs.
The state may not have eyewitnesses
Fourth, as noted above, the state’s primary witnesses may have never seen the alleged incident happen at all. Often, a child abuse investigation begins with a concerned neighbor, teacher, or nurse, who sees a bruise or is alarmed by something the child says. Though this process sometimes uncovers dangerous situations and helps a child, it is less reliable than basing a case on witnesses who observed the alleged incident. When the bulk of the DA’s case is assumptions and inferences based on an unexplained bruise or a statement from a child, you need a trial lawyer to attack their evidence. A criminal trial lawyer may, for example, be able to show the jury that the child is injury prone, or has a history of making up stories to get attention.
These are just some of the unique challenges of child abuse charges in Colorado. There are unique laws regarding evidence and trial procedure, unique sentencing provisions, and unique collateral consequences to you. Hire a Denver, Colorado child abuse lawyer equipped with the skill and experience to defend you.