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Child Abuse Penalties and Sentencing

A person charged with child abuse faces a wide range of penalties and sentencing possibilities, depending on several factors. These include the state where the abuse took place, the age of the child, whether the offense involved sexual abuse, whether the child was physically or mentally injured, and the criminal history of the offender.

Sentencing for child abuse and neglect cases is often difficult for everyone involved -- especially since child abuse cases are often highly publicized and the potential for a social stigma on the family is great.

In most states, child abuse may be charged as either a felony or a less serious offense depending on the circumstances. The most severe cases of child abuse may carry felony lifetime sentences, while the least serious cases are considered gross misdemeanors with potentially no jail time. Punishment will typically be more severe if the offender has a prior record of criminal child abuse activity and greatly reduced if there is no prior record.

For sentencing purposes, a person charged with child abuse may enter a guilty, not guilty, or no contest plea. In a large number of cases, sentencing will typically include probation or a prison term of up to five years. Sentencing in other, more serious, cases may include a longer prison term.

Other possible penalties and/or consequences may include:

  • Lifetime requirement to register as a child sexual offender
  • Termination of parental rights
  • Ruined reputation
  • Criminal record
  • Supervised access to the child
  • Physical or actual loss and enjoyment of a child
  • Continual involvement with a child protective services agency

People who fail to report child abuse or neglect also face penalties and consequences in some states with mandatory reporting laws. In those states, if a person has reason to suspect that someone is abusing a child, they must report it through a hotline or law enforcement agency. Failure to report such cases in a timely manner is considered a misdemeanor in most states and may result in fines, jail time, or both.

It is usually best to work with a criminal defense lawyer to reduce or lessen the severity of the penalties and sentencing in all cases involving child abuse.

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