Newark Endangering the Welfare of a Child Attorneys
Child Endangerment Defense Lawyers in Essex County, New Jersey
If the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (“DCP&P”), formerly known as the Division of Youth and Family Services (“DYFS”) investigates an allegation of child abuse or neglect, local law enforcement may also become involved if there are accusations of serious harm to a child. That is, in cases where a child suffers severe, actual harm that is more serious than fourth degree child abuse, abandonment, cruelty or neglect under Title 9, the County Prosecutor may determine that the allegations rise to a level that warrant charges for endangering the welfare of a child, in either the third or second degree. If you have been charged with child endangerment or are being investigated by DCP&P for an allegation of child abuse and neglect in New Jersey, you should contact the experienced DYFS lawyers at our law office to discuss your defense strategy. Our criminal defense team includes attorneys who used to prosecute these charges for the State of NJ. Now, let them use their experience and expertise to defend these allegations against you. We represent clients on DCP&P matters throughout Essex County and New Jersey, including in Irvington, Newark, West Orange, and South Orange. Contact our offices now for a free initial consultation at (908)-356-6900.
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NJ Endangering the Welfare of a Child Charges – Section 2C:24-4
New Jersey’s criminal child abuse and neglect laws set forth that any person having a legal duty for the care of a child or who has assumed responsibility for the care of a child who causes the child harm that would make the child an abused or neglected child as defined in N.J.S.A. 9:6-3 and N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21 is guilty of a crime of the second degree. The child endangerment statute furthers states that any other person who engages in conduct or who causes harm as described in this paragraph to a child is guilty of a crime of the third degree. N.J.S.A. 2C:24-4(a)(2). Interestingly, the endangerment statute does not set forth distinct elements of a criminal offense but, rather, cites Title 9 as the basis for determining whether or not a person has committed the crime of endangering the welfare of a child in New Jersey.
What the State must Prove for a Child Endangerment Conviction in NJ
Accordingly, there are four elements of the offense that the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt. One, the child was harmed or was placed at risk of harm. A child is defined as any person under the age of 18 years old. N.J.S.A. 2C:24-4. Further, the State does not have to prove that the defendant knew or should have known that the child was a minor. State v. Perez 177 N.J. 540 (2003). The only proof the prosecutor’s office needs to show is the child was in fact under the age of 18. Second, the defendant knowingly caused harm or knowingly placed the child in harm’s way. Knowing or knowledge means the defendant was aware of his conduct and was practically certain that his behavior would cause a result.
Third, the harm or exposure to harm would make the child an abused or neglected child as defined by Title 9. The Title 9 provides a detailed list of acts that are considered abusive. For instance, the statute provides that exposing a child to dangerous or injurious conditions, performing indecent or immoral acts in front of a child, using excessive physical restraints, excessive corporal punishment, willfully isolating a minor, failing to provide sufficient food, clothing, education, or medical attention, or abandoning a child. Also, is it important to acknowledge, the child does not have to actually be harmed. Exposing the child to potential harm violates the statute. See State v. Fuqua, 234 N.J. 583 (2018).
Fourth, the accused had a legal duty for the care of the child or had assumed responsibility for the care of the child. This element determines whether the offense is a third or second degree charge. This is a very important factor because the jail sentence doubles for second-degree offenses and moreover, the defendant is almost certain to go to jail. Also, he or she may be eligible for pre-trial intervention if the charge is one of the third degree. However, if the offense is one of the second-degree, it is presumed that he or she is not eligible. Pre-Trial Intervention or PTI is a very favorable diversionary programs for defendants. If the person completes the program, the charges are dismissed. Thus, he or she will not have a criminal record.
What is a Legal Duty of Care?
The legal duty or assumed responsibility of care does not have an exact definition. New Jersey courts have expressed that a person falls into that category if there is a parental relationship, or legal or physical custody arrangement. In cases where there is a less-structured relation, it may arise from cohabitation with the child. Additionally, courts and juries can also consider whether there is continuing or regular pattern of supervise or caretaker relationship with the child. On the other hand, a person assuming only temporary, brief, or occasional caretaking functions, such as irregular or infrequent babysitting, would unlikely fit into the definition of legal duty or assumed responsibility. See State v. Saad, 222 A.3d 713, 716–17, 461 N.J.Super. 517. (2019).
Consequences of Endangering the Welfare of a Child in NJ
If you are unfortunately being charged with the criminal offense of endangering the welfare of a child, there are several important issues that you must be aware of. The first is what the penalties and consequences are. The direct penal consequences of the offense are separated into two degrees. More specifically, second degree and third degree. In New Jersey, if a person is convicted of a second-degree charge, the individual faces five to ten years in jail alongside a fine up to $150,000. If a defendant is found guilty of committing a third-degree offense, he or she is subject to three to five years in jail alongside of fine of $15,000. Additionally, if the conduct involved sexual misconduct, the individual will be required to register as a sex offender under Megan’s Law. On top of that, upon being released from jail, the person will be under parole supervision for life.
In addition to the direct penalties, there are a number of collateral or secondary consequences that can result from an endangering conviction. First, a conviction for endangering a child is a felony offense. Therefore, you will have a criminal record and that record can be viewed by the public and employers. Thus, it is possible that you will lose your current job and it may be very difficult for you to find future employment. Second, if you have a professional license, the conviction may result in it being revoked. Similarly, if you have a felony conviction, you are barred from owning or possessing a firearm and furthermore, you are prohibited from obtaining a permit in the future. Third, if you are not a U.S. citizen, a conviction of this kind will almost certainty result in your removal from the country.
Fourth, the endangering charge and conviction may be used against you if you are involved in a custody dispute with a spouse or partner. The records, witnesses, and conviction can be submitted to the family court and based upon what the judge review, it may result in a transfer of custody, suspended parenting time, or supervised contact with your child. Lastly, if you are charged, not even convicted, it is very likely that DCP&P will be contacted. Even if the allegations do not involve your child, DCP&P will most likely be called and an investigation will be opened. Likewise, the family court judge assigned to the DCP&P case may suspend parenting time or order supervised contact with your child or children. Additionally, the court may also direct you to undergo an evaluation or submit to counseling.
Expungement of NJ Endangering the Welfare of a Child Offenses
One potential solution to a criminal conviction is an expungement. An expungement is a sealing or isolation of the record. It is not a complete removal or deletion of the conviction. Most people believe that the records department deletes the material from the system or shreds the documents. On the contrary, the file and its contents are still there but it can only be viewed by specific individuals or agencies for a definitive reasons. Specifically, Judges can view expunged records for pre-trial release decisions, diversionary program decisions, and sentencing determinations. Also, the police can view sealed records if a person wishes to become a police officer. Moreover, our judicial system can inspect expunged material if someone desires to become a judge. However, employers cannot gain access to sealed convictions and the police are not permitted to review expunged records for firearm permits.
A person, who was convicted of endangering the welfare of a child, may be eligible for an expungement if the following conditions are met. First, they were not convicted of endangering the welfare of a child in relation to any type of sexual misconduct. Second, they do not have any prior or subsequent felony convictions. Third, they do not have three or more prior misdemeanor convictions. If an individual has a lengthy history, they may still be eligible if the other convictions are all included under one single judgment of conviction or the applicant can demonstrate to the court that the other offenses are interdependent or closely related in circumstances and were committed as part of a sequence of events that took place within a short period of time.
Distinction between Child Endangerment and Child Abuse under Title 9 in New Jersey
Although the elements of the second and third degree offense are essentially indistinguishable from the fourth degree crime of child abuse found in Title 9, either can be used by the prosecutor when charging a defendant in a criminal case. In fact, the New Jersey Appellate Division concluded that there is no constitutional violation because the two statutes permit the prosecutor to utilize discretion and seek a conviction for a second degree crime when the circumstances so dictate. State v. T.C., 347 N.J. Super. 219 (App. Div. 2002) and State v. D.A.V., 348 N.J. Super. 107 (App. Div. 2002). In both of those cases, the Appellate Division cited the United States Supreme Court’s holding that “when an act violates more than one criminal statute, the Government may prosecute under either so long as it does not discriminate against any class of defendants.” United States v. Batchelder, 442 U.S. 114 (1979). In other words, the prosecutor has discretion to charge a defendant with either second or third degree child endangerment versus or fourth degree child abuse, depending upon the seriousness of the allegations.
Essex County Endangering the Welfare of a Child Attorneys on Your Side
If you are being investigated by DCP&P due to allegations of child abuse, you may also eventually be charged for the crime of endangering the welfare of a child. Although the Division is not able to file criminal charges, if the DYFS investigation reveals serious harm has occurred to a child, then the police and County Prosecutor may become involved as well and you could be facing severe consequences. Police can also file charges for child endangerment against you if they have probable cause to believe that you committed a violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:24-4. Whether you have been charged with a crime for endangering the welfare of a child or DCP&P is investigating you due an allegation of child abuse or neglect, you should contact the knowledgeable New Jersey child endangerment defense attorneys at our firm to discuss your case. You can reach us online or call (908)-356-6900 for an absolutely free consultation.