Failing to report child abuse or neglect is one of the few examples of a criminal offense based on the absence of action, as opposed to the commission of an affirmative, illegal act. Why can the government punish you for not doing anything? The Texas state legislature–and those of most other states in the nation–view child sex abuse as a serious and underreported issue. They believe that without an incentive (the prospect of criminal sanctions), most people won’t report illegal acts performed against children. The problem is that this policy results in a lot of good people being falsely accused of failing to report child sex abuse.
Fortunately, if you act fast and retain the services of a reputable Houston criminal defense attorney, you can push back against your criminal charges and avoid the harsh penalties that stem from a conviction. To convict you of a failure to report child abuse, the prosecutor will need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you had knowledge of the abuse and chose not to report it. For this reason, you should not plead guilty to your charges before consulting with a highly-skilled Houston child sex abuse lawyer, who may be able to effectively rebut the prosecutor’s arguments.
How Does Texas Law Define Failure to Report Child Abuse and Neglect?
The Texas family code, chapter 261 specifically addresses the failure to report child abuse and neglect. There are many different forms of child abuse and neglect–not all of which involve sexual abuse. As a rule of thumb, any time you think a child is being harmed in any way, you probably have a duty to report the abuse or neglect to the authorities.
Child abuse is defined as:
- A mental or emotional injury to a child that results in a visible impairment of the child’s growth, development, or psychological functioning
- Causing or allowing the child to be in a situation in which he or she sustains a mental or emotional injury
- A physical injury that results in substantial harm to the child or creates a threat of substantial harm to the child
- A failure to make a reasonable effort to prevent a child from receiving a physical injury
- Sexual conduct that is harmful to a child’s mental, emotional, or physical welfare, such as continuous sexual abuse of young a child or children (penal code section 21.02); indecency with a child (penal code section 21.11); sexual assault (penal code section 22.011) or aggravated sexual assault (penal code section 22.021)
- A failure to make reasonable efforts to prevent sexual conduct with a child
- Convincing or encouraging a child to engage in sexual conduct
- Causing, encouraging, engaging in, or allowing the creation of child pornography
- Using a controlled substance in a manner that results in a physical, mental, or emotional injury to a child
- Causing, allowing, or encouraging a child to use a controlled substance
- Causing, encouraging, engaging in, or allowing a sexual performance by a child
- Knowingly causing, encouraging, engaging in, or allowing a child to be trafficked or failing to make reasonable efforts to prevent a child from being trafficked
Texas law defines child neglect as:
- Leaving a child in a situation where he or she would be exposed to a substantial risk of physical or mental harm, failing to arrange for necessary care for the child, and failing to demonstrate the intent to continue caring for the child
- Allowing a child to be in any situation that exceeds the child’s level of maturity, physical condition, or mental abilities and that results in bodily injury or a substantial risk of harm
- Failing to obtain or maintain a child’s medical care in a way that causes substantial risk of injury or impairment of the child’s development
- Failing to provide a child with food, clothing, or shelter
- Placing a child in or failing to remove a child from a situation in which the child would be exposed to a substantial risk of sexual abuse
As you can see, Texas law describes a wide range of scenarios that might constitute child abuse or neglect. Additionally, professionals such as teachers and doctors have no more than 48 hours to make a report if they feel a child is being abused or neglected.
A failure to report child abuse or neglect is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and fines between $500 and $5,000. With aggravating circumstances (such as when the child is disabled or when a professional intended to conceal the abuse or neglect) the offense becomes a state jail felony involving a maximum penalty of two years in a state penitentiary and $10,000 in fines.
How Can Ned Barnett Help?
When you are charged with a crime, your freedom, finances, and reputation are on the line. The stakes are even higher when you’re accused of a crime that involves the ill-treatment of a child. The prosecutor and the jurors will feel immense pressure to ensure that someone is punished. Under such dire circumstances, you need the best legal representation possible.
As one of Houston’s most respected legal professionals, attorney Ned Barnett was selected to the Super Lawyers list of notable criminal defense lawyers and is well equipped to lead your case towards a positive resolution.
As a former prosecutor with 30 years of litigation experience, attorney Barnett knows that the key to your case is aggressive advocacy at every stage of the criminal justice process. To find out more about how the Law Offices of Ned Barnett can defend against charges of failing to report child sex abuse, call (713) 222-6767 today or contact us online for your confidential consultation.