There are many actions that can be considered domestic violence in the State of Pennsylvania, possibly even resulting in criminal charges. For example, many people naturally associate the crime of endangering the welfare of a child (Section 4304) as a form of domestic violence because it so often involves direct child abuse. But in reality, you can be charged with child endangerment in PA without ever striking or injuring a child, including in the context of domestic violence. If convicted of this crime, you could face up to five years in jail.
But that's not all that can happen. Allegations of child endangerment can result in other complications even if you're never actually charged with a crime. You could have a Protection from Abuse Order (PFA) filed against you, which could force you from your home, impact your custody rights, and limit your ability even to see your children. In some cases, these allegations can even impact the kind of jobs you can hold or your ability to hold a professional license in Pennsylvania.
Domestic Violence Defense Attorney in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania law is very strict both when it comes to general claims of domestic violence and specific claims of endangering the welfare of a child. The penalties of a criminal conviction can be severe, and even the impact of an accusation can be far-reaching. For these reasons, hiring an experienced Pennsylvania domestic violence defense attorney can make a significant difference in the outcome of your case. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has extensive experience fighting domestic violence charges in Pennsylvania, and he will work to ensure your rights are protected. To schedule a consultation, call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686.
What Is Endangering the Welfare of a Child?
Endangering the welfare of a child in Pennsylvania is broadly defined as when someone who is responsible for a minor "knowingly endangers the welfare of the child by violating a duty of care, protection or support." This means that there are many different ways that you can commit this crime, including:
- Physical abuse, including shaking, burning, or striking a child
- Failing to provide basic necessities like food, shelter, or clothing
- Sexual abuse or exploitation
- Neglecting a child's medical needs
- Exposing a child to illegal activities like drugs or prostitution
- Abandoning a child
- Committing DUI with a child in the vehicle
- Fighting with your spouse (and/or the child's parent) with the child present (especially if the child is inadvertently hurt as a result)
While Pennsylvania has no specific law defining domestic violence as a crime, it does recognize domestic violence as a crime committed against a spouse, ex-spouse, significant other, co-habitant, or another live-in relative (including one's own child). When an act of domestic violence results in charges of endangering the welfare of a child, it usually results from the direct or indirect involvement of a child in the incident. Direct involvement would typically mean the violence was directed toward the child (i.e., child abuse), while indirect involvement would mean the child was endangered as a result of domestic violence committed against another family member.
Examples of Domestic Violence Child Endangerment
- Example 1: Fred gets enraged with his wife Linda, and as their argument escalates out of control, he beats Linda while their 11-year-old son Josh looks on. Josh tries to intervene, but he suffers cuts to his face when Fred pushes him out of the way. Among other criminal charges, Fred may be charged with endangering the welfare of a child even though his violent actions were not directly aimed at his son.
- Example 2: Tina is addicted to heroin and has been sharing needles with her boyfriend, Mike. They have a 2-year-old child together, Jake. One day, Tina leaves Jake unattended while she goes out to score more drugs. While she's gone, Jake finds Tina's discarded needle and accidentally sticks himself with it, resulting in a serious infection. Tina and Mike may both be charged with endangering the welfare of a child.
- Example 3: Sarah stays at home with her infant daughter while her husband Ed works during the day. Between post-partum depression and a lack of sleep, Sarah gets extremely frustrated that her daughter won't stop crying. Ed returns from work to see Sarah shaking the baby. Ed can press charges of child endangerment against Sarah for this direct assault. He may also be able to petition for a PFA against Sarah on behalf of the child.
Penalties for Endangering the Welfare of a Child
In Pennsylvania, endangering the welfare of a child is a first-degree misdemeanor offense on its own. If you are convicted, you could be fined up to $10,000 and be sentenced to up to five years in jail. However, if prosecutors can demonstrate that you have endangered a child before and this is an established course of conduct, the charge may be upgraded to a third-degree felony with maximum penalties of $15,000 in fines and up to 7 years in jail.
Child Endangerment in the Context of Domestic Violence
Not all acts of child endangerment are considered domestic violence; the differentiator that makes it domestic violence is primarily when the abuse or endangerment occurs within the family environment. However, when it is categorized as a domestic violence crime, being accused of child endangerment can create additional complications for you. Here's how the allegations are treated differently in a domestic violence context:
- The chance of arrest goes up considerably, whether or not you're criminally charged. Law enforcement officers are required by law to make an arrest when they respond to domestic violence calls--even as a precautionary measure to protect the alleged victim. Even if a spouse falsely accuses you of endangering your child, you could face arrest if the police respond to the call.
- A Protection from Abuse Order (PFA) is more likely. When alleged endangerment of the welfare of a child occurs in a family context (making it domestic violence), the other parent can file a PFA against you on behalf of the child, barring you from contact with them for up to three years and impacting your custody/visitation rights.
Hire a Pennsylvania Domestic Violence Defense Attorney
Because there is so much at stake when you're accused of child endangerment or other forms of domestic violence, it's critical to have a skilled criminal defense attorney with domestic violence experience. Attorney Joseph D. Lento can help by providing skilled defense against criminal charges, negotiating for better terms, contesting a PFA, and more.
Call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686.