There are several different definitions of child abuse in Colorado. Generally speaking, a person is guilty of child abuse if the person causes injury to a child, or harms the child’s health. A person can also be guilty of child abuse even when there is no injury, so long as the person allows the child to be placed in danger of injury or harm to the child’s health.
A person can also be found guilty if they continually cause malnourishment, lack of medical care, punishment, or cause an accumulation of injuries if such treatment results in serious bodily injury, or death, to the child. It is not a defense to any of the above definitions of Child Abuse that the treatment of the child was part of a religious ritual or custom.
A person can also be charged with Child Abuse if a child is present when the defendant is alleged to have committed an act of Domestic Violence, even if the child was not involved in the altercation in any way. If the child was able to see or hear any aspect of the domestic violence incident, then the defendant can be charged with Child Abuse in addition to the domestic violence charges themselves. Getting a DUI charge when a child is in the car will also likely lead to charges.
It is also Child Abuse to manufacture a controlled substance anywhere in which a child is present. Likewise, a person can be guilty simply by allowing a child to be present in a location where the manufacture of a controlled substance is underway, even if the defendant was not involved in the manufacture process.
The right of a spouse not to testify against another spouse, does not apply to Child Abuse cases. This means that the defendant’s spouse can be forced to testify against him or her in a trial for this charge.
Penalties for Child Abuse can vary greatly depending on the facts of the case, and whether or not death or injury to the child resulted. As you will see, the mental state of the defendant has a significant effect on what degree of crime has been committed. When a defendant acts knowingly or recklessly, the crime is more severe than if the defendant acted negligently.
In cases where the child was injured, or died:
1. If the defendant acted knowingly or recklessly, and the child died, it is a class 2 felony.
2. If the defendant acted negligently, and the child died, it is a class 3 felony.
3. If the defendant acted knowlingly or recklessly, and the child was seriously injured, it is a class 3 felony.
4. If the defendant acted negligently, and caused serious injury, it is a class 4 felony.
5. If there was injury to the child, but the injury was not serious, then it is a class 1 misdemeanor when the defendant acted knowingly or recklessly; it is a class 2 misdemeanor if the defendant was acting negligently.
In cases where the child was not injured:
1. If the defendant acted knowingly or recklessly, it is a class 2 misdemeanor.
2. If the defendant acted negligently, is a class 3 misdemeanor.
Prior convictions for Child Abuse can elevate the seriousness of the crime charged. For example, a simple negligent act that does not actually result in any injury, can be elevated to a class 5 felony of the defendant has a prior conviction for Child Abuse.
Leaving Child Unattended in a Vehicle
Leaving a child unattended in a vehicle is a very common reason for people to be charged with child abuse. This type of case is often depicted in news media. Simply because the child was left in a vehicle does not, by itself, constitute Child Abuse. All of the facts of the situation must be considered, such as how long the child was left in the vehicle or the weather conditions, as examples.
Penalties for Child Abuse in Colorado
Penalties for Child Abuse in Colorado, like for all other crimes, are based on the degree of offense. For example, when a defendant acted knowingly or recklessly, and this caused the death of the child, it is a class 2 felony (see above), which carries a presumptive prison sentence of 8 to 24 years. If the judge were to find exceptional aggravation in the case, the sentence could be increased to 48 years.
In order to determine the possible penalty in a specific case, please determine the level of misdemeanor or felony that has been charged, and refer to our Sentencing page. Keep in mind that Child Abuse is considered to be an Extraordinary Risk Crime in the State of Colorado, which increases the maximum sentence for each crime level.
Mandatory Prison Sentences
If the person acted “knowlingly” or “recklessly,” and is found guilty of a class 2 or 3 felony, there is a mandatory prison sentence. The judge will have no discretion to sentence the defendant to anything less than the midpoint of the presumptive range. For example, if a person is convicted of acting recklessly and causing serious injury to a child, prison is mandatory, and the minimum sentence would be 8 years in prison (the midpoint of the 4 to 12 year range for an F3, or class three felony).
Child Protective Services
Child Protective Services, also commonly called “Social Services,” may become involved with a family when there are allegations of child abuse. If you are charged with such a crime, beware that statements that you make to Child Protective Services can be used in the criminal case against you. This creates a difficult predicament for the person that has been charged, since on one hand they want to be compliant with the Child Protective Services investigation, while at the same time, they want to exercise their right to remain silent under the Fifth Amendment. From the perspective of your criminal defense case, it is crucial that you do not make any statements to the police, or to Child Protective Services.