In the state of Pennsylvania, child endangerment occurs when a parent, guardian or a trusted supervisor of a child commits an offense that he or she knowingly endangers the welfare of said child.
Elements of a Child Endangerment Case in Pennsylvania
In order to fully understand this law, one must become aware of the elements in a case that would constitute specific actions as child endangerment. For the purposes of this article, we will examine the following elements:
Person Supervising the Welfare of a Child
Other parties besides a parent or guardian are not exempt from acquiring criminal charges for child endangerment. Pennsylvania statutes explicitly define other parties that could possibly face allegations of this offense. Statutory law refers to the “person supervising the welfare of a child” as an individual other than a parent or guardian that provides care, education, training or control of a child. Therefore, potential defendants in a child endangerment case could be a babysitter, coach, teacher, caregiver etc.
One of the most crucial aspects of Pennsylvania's child endangerment law is the concept of intention and deliberate action. Many people believe that in order to be convicted of this offense, a prosecutor must provide evidence displaying that a parent or guardian acted out of malice and intended to expose a child to harm. This is not true. Under state law, a child may be considered endangered by law whether a parent intended to expose them to potential harm or not. If a child's safety and welfare are jeopardized due to a circumstance that their parent, guardian or other trusted adult put them in, a conviction for this offense is possible. The intentions of a parent, guardian or trusted adult are irrelevant in child endangerment cases.
In Pennsylvania, child endangerment laws are enforced to punish conduct that could potentially lead to the harm or injury of a minor. This means that a child does not have to suffer an injury or experience any type of trauma in order for a parent, guardian, or a trusted supervisor to be convicted of this offense. However, child endangerment convictions have been imposed in unfortunate cases when a child was ultimately hurt or killed as a result of his or her exposure to harm.
Examples of Child Endangerment
Pennsylvania's child endangerment law is extremely vague and broadly applied. This means that a vast number of actions could constitute as child endangerment under this statute. In order to gauge whether the conduct that a parent or guardian exhibits is an endangerment to a minor, courts use their own discretion.
Typically, the courts base this decision on what actions an average parent or guardian in a similar situation would reasonably believe to be a risk to the child. However, this notion is also incredibly broad and subjective. In order to get an accurate idea of the circumstances that the state of Pennsylvania considers child endangerment, here are a few examples of allegations that are commonly linked to endangering the welfare of a child in the state:
- Driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol with a child present in a vehicle
- Serving alcohol to a minor
- Leaving a young child unsupervised or in the care of another young child
- Hiring a person with prior history of child abuse or sexual offenses as a childcare provider or babysitter
- Excessive punishment resulting in serious bodily injury
- Failure to seek medical attention for a child
- Exposing a child to drugs or other illegal and harmful substances, and the manufacturing and sale of these substances
- Failing to report suspected child abuse
- Leaving a child unsupervised in an apparent unsafe area
- Having unsecured firearms in the same environment as a child
- Failure to properly secure a child while driving a vehicle
Pennsylvania Child Endangerment Penalties
In Pennsylvania, child endangerment could be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony offense depending on the factors of a case.
In most cases, child endangerment results in a misdemeanor of the first degree. This offense carries penalties of a fine of up to $10,000 and five years spent in prison.
If a prosecutor proves beyond a reasonable doubt that an alleged perpetrator engaged in a course of conduct - which refers to a pattern of misconduct - an individual will be charged with a third-degree felony. If convicted, they will face penalties of a fine up to $15,000 and a three in a half year prison sentence.
An alleged perpetrator will also be charged and convicted of a third-degree felony in the event that a prosecutor proves that the commission of this crime created a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury to a child.
If a court finds that an alleged perpetrator exposed a child to a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury and exhibited a course of conduct, this offense is classified as a felony of the second degree. This offense carries penalties of a fine up to $25,000 and a prison term of 10 years.
Philadelphia Child Endangerment Defense Attorney
A child endangerment charge could compromise your current child custody arrangement, your finances, and your freedom. There is a lot at stake when allegations of this offense are cast on you as a parent, guardian or trusted supervisor of a child. If you are facing child endangerment charges in Philadelphia, it is best you consult with a skilled defense attorney to ensure that your rights are upheld in court and that your chances of a favorable outcome are maximized. Attorney Joseph D. Lento is here to help, contact him today.