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Attorney for Child Abuse in Tampa, FL

If you have been accused of child abuse or aggravated child abuse in Tampa, Hillsborough County, FL, or a surrounding county, then contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer at the Sammis Law Firm. The three attorneys in our office, Jason Sammis, Leslie Sammis, and Matt Menendez, are experienced in representing men and women in these types of cases and fighting to protect them after the accusation. Our attorneys represent clients throughout Tampa or Plant City in Hillsborough County, Clearwater or St. Petersburg in Pinellas County, Dade City or New Port Richey in Pasco County or Brooksville in Hernando County, FL.

These charges are particularly serious if you are a teacher or certified educator, nurse or health care professional, lawyer or law school student, member of the military, or if you work for a law enforcement agency.

If you are suspected of physical abuse of a child, never make a statement to the child's teacher, a doctor or nurse, the Florida Department of Children and Families or any law enforcement officer about the criminal allegation. Instead, contact a criminal defense attorney to find out how to protect yourself, the child, and your family from a false or exaggerated allegation.

If you would like to speak directly with an attorney in our office, then call 813-250-0500 today.


Any Child Abuse Allegation is Serious

Any allegation of child abuse is serious because potential criminal punishments under Florida law related to the criminal charge. In many cases, the arrest alone can mean that the parent is terminated from their job and loses their standing in the community even if the charges are ultimately dropped. Also, a child protection investigator with the Florida Department of Children and Families may attempt to take the child out of your home or require the parent to take certain parenting classes or participate in family counseling.

Under Florida Statutes Section 827.03, the crime of child abuse or aggravated child abuse may be charged as a felony criminal offense with the exact charge depending on the nature of the alleged mental or physical injury to the child.


Elements of the Criminal Charge of Child Abuse

A man or woman 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 by five years in Florida State Prison and a $1,000 fine.

For the charge of child abuse, the prosecutor for the State of Florida must prove two elements at trial beyond a reasonable doubt. First, the alleged victim must be under the age of 18. Secondly, it must be proven that the person did one of the following acts:

  1. intentionally inflicted physical or mental injury upon the alleged victim;
  2. committed an intentional act that could reasonably be expected to result in physical or mental injury to the alleged victim; or
  3. actively encouraged another person to commit an act that resulted in or could reasonably have been expected to result in physical or mental injury to (victim).

Aggravated Child Abuse (Aggravated Battery) Florida Statutes Section § 827.03

Aggravated Child Abuse is a felony in the first degree punishable by 30 years in Florida State Prison. In order to prove the crime of Aggravated Child Abuse by committing Aggravated Battery upon a child, the prosecutor for the State of Florida must prove the following three elements beyond a reasonable doubt. The first element is a definition of battery.

  1. The Defendant committed a battery against the child by intentionally striking the child against the child's will causing harm to the child;
  2. While committing the battery, the Defendant did one of the following:
    • Intentionally or knowingly caused victim either great bodily harm; permanent disability; or permanent disfigurement; or
    • Used a deadly weapon, which is defined as a weapon used or threatened to be used in a way likely to produce death or great bodily harm.

Punishments of Consequences of Aggravated Child Abuse

A person who commits aggravated child abuse commits a felony of the first degree punishable by 30 years in Florida State Prison. "Aggravated child abuse" can also occur when a person:

  1. Willfully tortures, maliciously punishes, or willfully and unlawfully cages a child; or
  2. Knowingly or willfully abuses a child and in so doing causes great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement to the child.

"Neglect of a child" under Florida Law

  1. A caregiver's failure or omission to provide a child with the care, supervision, and services necessary to maintain the child's physical and mental health, including, but not limited to, food, nutrition, clothing, shelter, supervision, medicine, and medical services that a prudent person would consider essential for the well-being of the child; or
  2. A caregiver's failure to make a reasonable effort to protect a child from abuse, neglect, or exploitation by another person. Neglect of a child may be based on repeated conduct or on a single incident or omission that results in, or could reasonably be expected to result in, serious physical or mental injury, or a substantial risk of death, to a child.
  3. A person who willfully or by culpable negligence neglects a child and in so doing causes great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement to the child commits a felony of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.
  4. 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.

Under the child abuse statute, the term "maliciously" means wrongfully, intentionally, and without legal justification or excuse. Maliciousness may be established by circumstances from which one could conclude that a reasonable parent would not have engaged in the damaging acts toward the child for any valid reason and that the primary purpose of the acts was to cause the victim unjustifiable pain or injury.

If you have been accused of child abuse or aggravated child abuse, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at the Sammis Law Firm. Call 813-250-0500 to find out what you need to do right now to protect yourself and your family against this serious allegation.


When Does Spanking a Child Constitute "Child Abuse" under Florida law?

Proverbs 13:24 instructs us that "He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him." However, in Florida using the rod for careful discipline may result in a child abuse investigation.

The unwritten rule used by law enforcement, child protective services, and the prosecutors with the State Attorney's Office is that if the spanking (corporal punishment) left a mark anywhere other than the buttocks, then the act can constitute "child abuse" under Florida law. However, that unwritten rule leads to many innocent parents being arrested for charges that can not ultimately be proven.

At common law, one standing in loco parentis had the right “to moderately chastise for correction a child under his or her control and authority.” Raford v. Florida, 828 So.2d 1012, 1015 n. 5 (Florida 2002). Nothing in section 827.03, or any related Florida statute, abolishes that right.

In Raford v. State, 828 So.2d 1012 (Fla.2002), the Florida Supreme Court reviewed the case law interpreting Florida's child abuse laws and their interplay of those laws with the common law parental privilege of corporal punishment. As the majority correctly notes, Raford recognized that, at common law, a parent or one standing in loco parentis (such as a teacher) had the right to reasonably discipline a child under his or her control and authority.

Citing this language in Raford, the Florida Supreme Court concludes that “[n]othing in section 827.03, or any related statute, abolishes that right. While a teacher may be subject to disciplinary charges for violating the school board's employment policy, that policy should not trump the argument that certain conduct has not violated the criminal law.”


The "Parental Authority" Defense for Florida Child Abuse Cases

Since any offensive touching is a battery under Florida law, what happens when parents spank their child? Technically speaking, they can assert Florida's "parental authority" defense.

Consistent with Florida's child abuse statutory scheme, and pursuant to the Florida Supreme Court's decision in Raford, a defendant charged with child abuse under 827.03(1) may raise as an affirmative defense the parental privilege of corporal punishment by establishing that:

1. defendant is the parent of the child or one who stands in loco parentis;

2. defendant's actions constitute corporal punishment; and

3. the corporal punishment utilized was “reasonable” or “nonexcessive.”

Under the "logo parentis" doctrine recognized under Florida Law, conveys this right for any person standing in for parent, including relative babysitting child, teacher.


The Child Abuse Statute and Factors in Prosecuting Cases

This unwritten rule used by law enforcement is often a much lower standard than "intentionally inflicting physical injury" or "committing an intentional act that could reasonably be expected to result in physical injury." Furthermore, Florida law recognizes a parent's right to discipline a child with a spanking.

Factors considered in any child abuse investigation involving a parent spanking a child include:

  1. The age of the child;
  2. The number of times the child was struck;
  3. The manner in which the child was struck and whether an object such as a belt, rod, or switch was used;
  4. Whether the spanking left a mark such as a red mark, abrasion, bruise or welt;
  5. Any history of prior allegations of child abuse or neglect; and
  6. The parents criminal history or lack thereof.

If you are being investigated for spanking your child in Florida, it is important to speak to a qualified child abuse attorney in the Tampa Bay area to discuss ways that you can protect yourself, your child and your family from this serious allegation. Find more information in our article on frequently asked questions in child abuse cases. Also, learn more about the charge of leaving a child unattended.


Additional Child Abuse Resources

Children's Crisis Center of Tampa for Hillsborough County, FL - The Children's Crisis Center is located at 2212 East Henry Avenue, Tampa, FL 33610. This non-profit program provides supervised treatment for children who are in crisis for any number of reasons including when the parents are accused of domestic battery or child abuse. The Tampa Children's Crisis Center provides services to children as young as 5 years old and as old as 17 years old. The program includes a team of Board Certified adolescent / child registered nurses with psychiatric experience; child psychiatrists, master level clinicians, case managers and certified educational teachers. Although the program is private, it receives public funding and works with the Department of Children and Families and the Child Protective Investigators with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.


Finding an Experienced Child Abuse Defense Attorney in Tampa, FL

Contact an experienced Child Abuse Attorney at the Sammis Law Firm if you are charged with this serious criminal offense. We fight these types of felony offenses in Tampa, Hillsborough County, FL. Our attorneys represent men and women charged with child abuse and other crimes of violence throughout the Tampa Bay area. We also represent clients on related charges for false imprisonment and kidnapping.

Never make a statement to any law enforcement officers about the facts of the case. Instead, talk to a criminal defense attorney who can explain your side of the story and present exculpatory or mitigating evidence to help your case. Call 813-250-0500.

This article was last updated by on Monday, February 8, 2016.

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