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5 Things You Need to Know About Child Abuse Charges

1. You have rights as a parent.

You are entitled to discipline your children in whatever reasonable manner you determine is appropriate. The right to physically discipline (i.e. spank) your child should not result in criminal responsibility for parents or guardians if:

  • the force used is reasonable
  • the spanking is reasonably related to promoting the child’s welfare, including punishment, and
  • the spanking does not cause physical harm beyond fleeting pain, humiliation of the child, or severe mental or physical distress

Courts over time have held that the parent-child relationship is safeguarded by the constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the Fourteenth Amendment protects “the liberty of parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control.” The Supreme Court has also held that “the interest of parents in the care, custody, and control of their children is perhaps the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests recognized.”

Reasonable, appropriate physical discipline is within your rights as a parent, and is a defense against unwarranted child abuse accusations.

2. Understand whether you are a mandated reporter.

Some professionals have legal obligations to report known or suspected instances of child abuse. These mandated reporters include teachers and other school personnel, medical practitioners, dentists, social service providers, and some government workers who frequently interact with children. In Washington, this duty may extend to mandated reporters who suspect child abuse is occurring within their own families.

Failure to report if you are a mandated reporter can result in a gross misdemeanor. For this reason, it is important to understand your role and responsibilities very carefully.

3. Difficult family law cases sometimes lead to false accusations.

Contentious custody battles can result in unwarranted accusations of child abuse against one or the other parent. The accuser may think s/he will get the upper hand in a custody fight if the other parent is facing these terrible (though false) allegations. In other situations, the accuser is simply trying to harm the accused through character assassination, as in a bitter divorce.

To avoid the possibility of an angry, manipulative former partner using false child abuse allegations as a means of retaliation or obtaining custody, try to resolve custody and/or divorce disputes as amicably as possible. An experienced family law attorney can help you navigate these challenges.

4. You have rights too.

The legal system includes important protections of a defendant’s rights in a child abuse case.

While anyone facing child abuse allegations (whether founded or not) naturally feels frightened, anxious, and upset, the reliable procedures of the justice system built a predictability into your case. Your defense attorney will know this procedure well and be able to explain to you what to expect when and how best to prepare. This predictability also gives you and your defense attorney time/space to mount your defense.

The “discovery” process also protects your rights. The government cannot convict anyone based on secret evidence. Practically, this means that all the evidence against you must be disclosed to you and your attorney. In a child abuse case, discovery may include:

  • witness statements and identifying information,
  • transcripts or notes from interviews with the child,
  • reports by Child Protective Services (CPS) caseworkers, and more.

The Marshall Defense Firm can further explain how discovery works in child abuse cases, as well as develop a defense strategy.

5. There is help.

Hire an experienced defense attorney to represent you as soon as possible. The Marshall Defense Firm has handled numerous child abuse cases, vigorously representing clients in hopes of securing a fair and just result in these sensitive and emotional cases. If you face child abuse allegations in Washington State, please contact us at 206.826.1400 or for more information.

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