Child Abuse                                                                                                        

The following is a summary of the Child Abuse Laws in Florida (both aggravated and simple child abuse):

Florida Criminal Code Section

39.202, 205; 39.201; 39.01(2)

What Constitutes Abuse

Willful or threatened act resulting in physical, mental, or sexual injury or harm, causing or likely to cause impairment of physical, mental, or emotional health

Mandatory Reporting Required By

Physician, mental health professional, spiritual practitioner, school teacher, social worker, law enforcement officer, judge

Basis of Report of Abuse/neglect

One who knows or has reasonable cause to suspect neglect, abuse, or abandonment

To Whom Reported

Department of Children and Family Services

Penalty for Failure to Report or False Reporting

Misdemeanor in 1st degree; if knowingly made false report: felony in 3rd degree

The crime of Aggravated Child Abuse can be committed in one of three ways on a child less than 18 years old:

  1. Committing an aggravated battery on a child;
  2. Willfully torturing, maliciously punishing, or willfully and unlawfully caging a child; or
  3. Knowingly or willfully abusing a child and in so doing causing great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement to the child.
  4. There is no requirement that the Aggravated Child Abuse must be committed by a person in a parental or custodial relationship to the victim, thus what might be charged as a felony battery if the child was an adult, can instead be charged as Aggravated Child Abuse at the prosecutor's discretion.

The crime of Aggravated Child Abuse is classified as a Second Degree Felony and is assigned a Level 8 offense severity ranking under Florida's Criminal Code.  If convicted of Aggravated Child Abuse, a judge is required to impose a minimum prison sentence of 34½ months in prison and can additionally impose any combination of the following penalties:

  • Up to fifteen (15) years in prison.
  • Up to fifteen (15) years of probation.
  • Up to $10,000 in fines.

There are several specific defenses in a case of child abuse such as those in any other criminal case.  However, in addition to these basic criminal defenses which can be used in most any criminal case, parental privilege can be used to defend a case of child abuse. A parent or one standing in loco parentis has the right to reasonably discipline a child under his or her control and authority. However, if injuries more serious than minor bruising occur as a result of the discipline, the parental privilege does not apply.

Simple (non-aggravated) Child Abuse

Two very important provisions can affect any parent and the state may try and prosecute a parent under the following violations of the child abuse laws in Florida.

A person who knowingly or willfully abuses a child without causing great bodily harm,permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement to the child commits a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.

A person who willfully or by culpable negligence neglects a child without causing great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement to the child commits a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.

What is very important to consider relating to these two provisions of the simple child abuse law is that a parent who uses a belt or other object to spank and discipline a child is often accused of child abuse and could easily face five years in prison being accused of a third-degree felony. Even parents that severely scold their child causing what others decide to be damage to their child's “emotional health”.

Also, parents whose children suffer injuries or could have sustained injuries or severe trauma due to circumstances unforeseen by the parents involved are often charged with the second provision of the child abuse law relating to culpable negligence on the part of the parent. These two provisions of the Florida child abuse statute can destroy family relationships for a lifetime.

Once a parent is arrested for third-degree child abuse, assuming the child is allowed to even remain in the home of the accused parent, then the social workers visit the household on a regular basis interrupting the normal lives of the family members. This visitation process can last for months.  In many instances, children are told to report child abuse to the police by their teachers or friends when in fact the parents were actually disciplining the child in a normal law-abiding manner. When police arrive based on a complaint by a child, law-enforcement officers take recorded statements from the child which are used later at trial even though the child realizes that he/she made a mistake while emotionally upset in reporting simple discipline by the parents as child abuse.

If you as a parent or guardian are charged with child abuse or contacted by law enforcement regarding a child abuse case you need to contact our office immediately and not make any statements to law enforcement since certain comments could be interpreted as a violation of the child abuse statute in Florida. If a parent is convicted of child abuse or any lesser misdemeanor offense, such as contributing to the dependency of a child, they will never be able to work as an educator, any other employment relating to children or in law enforcement or other similar professions. Therefore, it is essential that upon an arrest or contact by law-enforcement, the parent who could be accused of violating this law contact our office for advice as soon as possible.