How Can I Defend Against Child Physical Abuse Charges?

Few criminal convictions can damage a reputation as much as a child abuse conviction can. Accusations of hurting a child, whether your own child or one entrusted to your care, can have life-long effects, so it is important to move quickly to defend yourself when accusations like that are made against you.

What is Physical Child Abuse?

In Washington, child abuse and child neglect are defined in RCW 26.44.020 as “[the] injury of a child by any person under circumstances which cause harm to the child’s health, welfare, or safety . . . or the negligent treatment or maltreatment of a child by a person responsible for or providing care to the child.” Child abuse includes physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Physical abuse occurs when a person directly or indirectly causes a child to sustain a physical injury. 

Some child physical abuse can be classified as “severe abuse.” Severe physical abuse, as defined in RCW 26.44.030(1)(d), is: 

  • “one act of physical abuse [that] causes physical trauma of sufficient severity that, if left untreated, [it] could cause death . . .
  • or more than one act of physical abuse, each of which causes bleeding, deep bruising, significant external or internal swelling, bone fracture, or unconsciousness.”

How Physical Child Abuse Is Charged in Washington 

In Washington state, someone accused of physical child abuse may be separated from the children under their watch even before any criminal charge is filed. Washington law grants police the ability to take a child into custody without a court order if there is probable cause to believe that there has been child abuse or neglect and there is a danger that, if the police wait for a court order, abuse or neglect will lead to injury.  

The law also requires that police investigate any credible allegation of child abuse.

While police may act quickly without court involvement, RCW 26.44.100 grants the accused the right to be informed about:

  • a pending Child Protective Service investigation, 
  • the determination of any CPS investigation, and 
  • whether the investigation will lead to further investigations or proceedings. 

A person also has a right to a judicial review of a CPS investigation’s finding against them. RCW 26.44.125 requires the person to request that review within 30 days of learning of the finding against them (often called a “founded” determination). 

Defending Against Physical Child Abuse Charges

When someone is accused of physical child abuse, building a strong defense needs to begin early. The first thing the accused should do is simply remain silent. Everyone has the right to remain silent under the Fifth Amendment, regardless of whether they are innocent or guilty. It’s tempting to answer questions asked by police. Most people feel they will look guilty if they refuse to answer. But giving any information to the police–even innocuous information–can hurt a person’s chances in court. 

Don’t worry about whether remaining silent makes you look guilty! Speaking gives the prosecution evidence, no matter how innocuous the information may seem. If you are called for questioning during an investigation, the only thing you should say is, “I choose to remain silent.”

The next thing you need to do, after learning you’re accused, is to find a capable defense attorney. Your attorney is your legal advocate, the one person ethically bound to fight for you. They are trained to spot weaknesses in the prosecution’s case and to show the facts and information that support your position. Choosing the right attorney is one of the most important ways to protect yourself. 

Look for the right chemistry when you meet with an attorney. This is someone who’s going to be advising you as you make important decisions; choose someone you feel you will trust to give you good advice. 

You should also feel that the attorney genuinely cares about you. 

At the Marshall Defense Firm, we have decades of experience defending people accused of physical child abuse as well as child sex abuse, adult sexual assault, domestic violence, and other kinds of misconduct. We stay up to date on changes in the law and on new findings in medicine and science related to these areas of the law. We bring compassion to our clients and skill to their defense.

If you or a family member is accused, contact us at 206.826.1400 or for an appointment.

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