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What are My Legal Options if I am Accused of Child Endangerment?

Posted on: May 28, 2021

In New Jersey, endangering the welfare of a child is a serious criminal offense. Child endangerment in New Jersey can take the form of sexual or non-sexual offenses. Either type can put the offender’s freedom at serious legal jeopardy.

Not only could a conviction put a person in jail or on probation, but also a conviction could make it more challenging to find a job or housing. These collateral consequences can wreak havoc on an offender’s future life. To combat these legal issues, anyone alleged to have committed the criminal act of endangering the welfare of a child needs to speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer right away.

What Constitutes Endangering the Welfare of a Child?

Under New Jersey law, a person can endanger the welfare of a child by engaging in sexual conduct with a minor or abusing or neglecting a child in a non-sexual manner. Although sexual conduct is not defined, sexual assault, engaging in sexual activity, kissing, and other acts of lewdness in the presence of or with a child, might violate this law.

For non-sexual child endangerment, a person may violate the law by abusing or neglecting a child. This could include any of the following:

  • Physically injuring the child
  • Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol with a child in the car
  • Leaving a child in a car unattended
  • Leaving a child alone in a pool
  • Leaving a child home alone before they are old enough
  • Failing to provide a child with food and clothing

Family members are not the only ones who can endanger a child. Although it may seem obvious that a parent who drives drunk with their child in the car may have committed a violation of the law, it might not seem so obvious that people without a familial relationship with the child can also be charged.

People other than parents who may be charged with endangering a child may include these individuals:

  • Teachers
  • Coaches
  • Legal guardian
  • Camp counselor
  • Bus driver

Although these individuals may face lesser penalties, a conviction can still ruin their lives. That is why it is vital to an accused’s future that they speak with a skilled criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. Being proactive now may make the legal hurdles less severe down the road.

New Jersey Penalties

Depending on the degree of crime charged, the penalties for someone convicted of endangering the welfare of a child may vary. When the crime of child endangerment also includes sexual misconduct, the penalties are likely to be more extreme.

Prison. When parents are convicted of endangering the welfare of their child, that may result in first-degree criminal charges of up to 20 years in prison. This may also include fines of up to $200,000.

The most serious non-familial offenders will face second-degree criminal charges. If the accused is convicted, the sentence could be as much as 10 years in prison and a fine up to $150,000. Both first- and second-degree criminal convictions mandate prison time.

Even lesser offenses can result in as much as five years in prison under a third-degree criminal charge. Child endangerment is a felony, and if convicted, an offender will face prison time.

Megan’s Law. When sexual misconduct is involved in the charge and a court finds the person guilty, the individual convicted will also be subject to Megan’s Law. Under this law, when an offender is convicted of child endangerment that includes sexual activity, even after the person leaves prison, they must register as a sex offender. This designation is in effect for the rest of the person’s life. Every place they move, the person must register with the local police department as a sex offender. Even if the individual continues living in the same location, they must re-register every year.

The sex offender registration is a public list for which neighbors have access. The law prohibits many sex offenders from holding certain jobs and living within a certain distance to a school. Having to register as a sex offender for life can severely hinder a person’s ability to move on.

Probation. When a person is convicted of child endangerment with sexual misconduct, they are also subject to a lifetime on probation. This can include additional limitations on jobs a person can hold, where they can live, and even what kind of internet access they may have. It can also increase penalties for other offenses that a person may commit in the future, even unrelated to child endangerment.

Other Considerations

Beyond the fact that a convicted offender faces a long time in prison and a reduced quality of life when they are released, there are other considerations for a person charged with child endangerment. It is important to remember that taking proactive steps now can save a world of heartache later.

Time for the state to bring charges. It is important for anyone charged with child endangerment to know that a charge from the state may not come right away. New Jersey law gives the state two years after the discovery of a criminal act to file charges against the offender.

The same law also provides for more time if the criminal act occurred when the victim was under 18 years old. In that case, the state has five years after the child’s 18th birthday to file charges, regardless of when the criminal activity occurred.

No expungement. Through a legal process called expungement, a convicted person may have their criminal record erased for certain convictions. This often happens after a person is released from prison and shows they have been rehabilitated.

However, criminal child endangerment that is deemed to have impaired the morals of a child is a conviction that cannot be expunged. This means that no matter how much a person has done to change their life and no matter how much prison time they have served to pay for their crime, that will forever be a stain on their record.

Dropping charges. Under New Jersey law, only the state can file child endangerment charges. Any hope of convincing a family member or some other person to drop the charges cannot happen. Prosecutors in New Jersey are the only people who can decide to drop child endangerment charges.

This makes the selection of a criminal defense lawyer all the more important. With relationships, a lawyer may be able to work with a prosecutor to help reduce a sentence or lower the severity of charges a person faces. By working with a skilled criminal defense lawyer, an individual may be able to give themselves a fighting chance at a better life.

When facing any degree of child endangerment criminal charge, a person is looking at spending time in prison. This restriction on freedom extends well beyond the walls of a jail and will follow a convicted sex offender for the rest of their life. Taking steps now to prevent or reduce the negative impact that may have on a person’s life is vital to their future success.

Freehold Criminal Defense Lawyers at Ellis Law Protect the Rights of Those Accused of Child Endangerment

Depending on the degree of the child endangerment charge you face, you could be facing up to two decades in prison. This nearly eliminates your ability to support yourself after you leave prison. Do not take these charges lightly. Get the help you deserve by partnering with the experienced Freehold criminal defense lawyers at Ellis Law. Our legal team will work tirelessly to protect your rights. Call us at 732-308-0200 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Freehold, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout East Brunswick, Toms River, Middletown, Jersey City, Neptune, Marlboro Township, Hudson County, Union County, Essex County, and Ocean County, as well as Brooklyn and New York, New York.