Courts and lawmakers view domestic violence as a particularly serious offense. The laws defining domestic violence generally cover alleged acts involving violence or the threat of imminent violence against family or household members. The laws relating to “child abuse” are not always considered part of “domestic violence” law. However, a domestic violence prosecution may still include “child endangerment” allegations, even if the child was not directly involved in the alleged offense.
Child endangerment involves putting a child at the risk of physical, mental, or emotional harm. Courts may take this harm into consideration and enhance penalties for other offenses in the event of a conviction. Defending against a charge involving child endangerment therefore requires a careful review of the facts and circumstances of the case, and a vigorous opposition to the prosecution’s claims. An experienced criminal defense attorney with knowledge of Washington law can help you understand the charges against you, as well as the potential penalties they carry.
“Child Endangerment” Defined
Washington law does not specifically define “child endangerment,” but makes reference to it in the definitions of several other offenses, in some cases including it in provisions for determining punishment. Child endangerment does not necessarily require actual injury, but only the risk of injury. For example, the offense of “endangerment with a controlled substance,” a class B felony, involves the alleged exposure of a child to methamphetamine or the materials used in its production, without regard to injury. On the other hand, the offense of “criminal mistreatment” applies to an alleged failure to care for, or the neglect of a child or a “dependent person” when the defendant has an obligation to provide care. It usually requires proof of actual injury to the child, however.
Relation to Domestic Violence Allegations
In domestic violence cases, prosecutors tend to look at whether an alleged incident that did not cause direct injury to a child might have put the child at risk in some other way. For example, Washington law allows prosecutors to treat the presence of a child during an alleged domestic violence offense as an “aggravating circumstance.” The Sentencing Reform Act of 1981 states that the jury may consider evidence that an alleged offense “occurred within sight or sound of the victim’s or the offender’s minor child,” and that a court may factor this into its sentencing decision. The involvement of a child in a prosecution for domestic violence can therefore have a significant impact on how the court treats the case.
Penalties for Child Endangerment
A finding by a jury, beyond a reasonable doubt, that an “aggravating factor” occurred allows a court to impose the maximum sentence allowed by law, even if the defendant could prove other mitigating factors. Understanding the factors alleged by the prosecution, and how they can affect your legal rights, is critical to your defense. To defend a claim of child endangerment, we will investigate the prosecution's allegations, interview witnesses, and review the legal claims against you to mount the best possible case on your behalf.
For more than 15 years, criminal defense attorney Timothy L. Healy has represented defendants charged with alleged domestic violence offenses. If you are facing criminal charges in Tacoma, Pierce County, or elsewhere in Washington state, contact us today by going online or by calling us at (888) 312-3093 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.