Iowa Mother Gets Probation for Child Endangerment Charges
A mother in Iowa was sentenced to probation on child endangerment charges after leaving her four children home alone while she took a trip to Germany last year. The mother is Erin Lee Macke, a 31 year-old resident of Iowa. A court recently sentenced her to two years of probation on four counts of child endangerment. If she violates probation, she could face up to two years in prison for each count.
In February, Macke entered an Alford plea of guilty to the very serious felony charges against her. In an Alford plea, the defendant does not admit guilt, but acknowledges that prosecutors likely have enough evidence to secure a conviction at trial. As part of the deal in this child neglect case, prosecutors also dropped one count of making a firearm available to a person under the age of 21. In addition, there is a no-contact order in place which prevents Macke from having contact with her children, other than supervised phone calls. Further, a Family Court judge granted primary custody of the two younger children to their father, Matthew Macke. There is another ongoing court case regarding custody of Macke’s other two children, but the details of that matter are not currently available.
Matthew Macke gave a victim impact statement in court, saying that Erin Macke has not shown remorse for her actions: “Erin’s decision to leave the children was intentional, done knowingly and she has not accepted any responsibility and continued to place blame on everyone else.” He added that leaving an unsecured firearm in the house presented a risk to the children that Macke does not seem to acknowledge: “Erin refuses to admit that her choices put the children at a substantial risk of harm.” Additionally, a victim advocate read a statement from Matthew McQuary, the father of Macke’s other two children in Texas. McQuary echoed many of Matthew Macke’s arguments, saying that Erin Macke blamed and criticized both fathers when speaking to the children. “Erin does not feel any remorse or responsibility for her actions,” McQuary said through the victim advocate.
Macke thanked the court for hearing her side of the case, but she did not speak in court other than to say that she has expressed her views of the case in the presentencing investigation, which is not accessible by the public. Her lawyer said that she made a mistake and should be allowed to rectify it. He said that animosity between the children’s parents has painted Macke in a worse light than she deserves: “The drama that has surrounded this case has been fanned by the fathers.”
Although this case was a criminal matter in Iowa, it can provide a backdrop to discuss child welfare cases in New Jersey. In New Jersey, a person can be prosecuted for criminal conduct by the local Prosecutor’s Office and also investigated for child abuse and neglect by the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP).
With respect to criminal matters, a New Jersey resident accused of child abuse and neglect is generally charged with endangering the welfare of a child. The child endangerment statute is broken up into two major sections and reads as follows:
- Any person having a legal duty for the care of a child or who has assumed responsibility for the care of a child who engages in sexual conduct which would impair or debauch the morals of the child is guilty of a crime of the second degree. 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.
- 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 R.S.9:6-1, R.S.9:6-3, and section 1 of P.L.1974, c.119 (C.9:6-8.21) is guilty of a crime of the second degree. 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.
Accordingly, if you are the child’s parent or guardian, you will be charged with a second degree offense, which can result in a prison sentence of 5-10 years, as well as fines of up to $150,000. If you are not the child’s parent or guardian, the charge will be a third degree crime, which can end with a prison sentence of 3-5 years and fines of up to $15,000.
With respect child welfare cases, a parent or guardian can be held responsible for committing child abuse or neglect when the parent, guardian, or other person having custody and control:
- Inflicts or allows to be inflicted upon such child physical injury by other than accidental means which causes or creates a substantial risk of death, or serious or protracted disfigurement, or protracted impairment of physical or emotional health or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ;
- Creates or allows to be created a substantial or ongoing risk of physical injury to such child by other than accidental means which would be likely to cause death or serious or protracted disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ; or
- Commits or allows to be committed an act of sexual abuse against the child;
- Or a child whose physical, mental, or emotional condition has been impaired or is in imminent danger of becoming impaired as the result of the failure of his parent or guardian, or such other person having his custody and control, to exercise a minimum degree of care (1) in supplying the child with adequate food, clothing, shelter, education, medical or surgical care though financially able to do so or though offered financial or other reasonable means to do so, or (2) in providing the child with proper supervision or guardianship, by unreasonably inflicting or allowing to be inflicted harm, or substantial risk thereof, including the infliction of excessive corporal punishment or using excessive physical restraint under circumstances which do not indicate that the child’s behavior is harmful to himself, others or property; or by any other act of a similarly serious nature requiring the aid of the court;
- Or a child who has been willfully abandoned by his parent or guardian, or such other person having his custody and control;
- Or a child who is in an institution as defined in section 1 of P.L.1974, c. 119 (C. 9:6-8.21) and (1) has been so placed inappropriately for a continued period of time with the knowledge that the placement has resulted and may continue to result in harm to the child’s mental or physical well-being or (2) has been willfully isolated from ordinary social contact under circumstances which indicate emotional or social deprivation.
Accordingly, if you are facing criminal charges or are being investigated for child abuse and neglect in New Jersey, it’s important that you contact an experienced attorney with the Tormey Law Firm to protect your rights.