Posted On: October 28, 2012 by Leifert & Leifert

Florida Child Abuse Statute, Broad Definitions & Overzealous DCF Workers

A Boynton Beach woman is accused of abusing a child after she allegedly bit her boyfriend's young son during a bout of roughhousing. mouth.jpg

Broward County criminal defense lawyers know that when it comes to allegations of child abuse, sometimes even minor mistakes can lead to severe consequences. It has to do with the way the law is written.

Child abuse laws in Florida are governed under Florida Statute 827.03. It allows that child abuse is ANY intentional infliction of physical or mental injury upon a child or any intentional act that could reasonably be expected to result in physical or mental injury to a child.

Based solely on that definition, the continued use of the paddle by principals in Florida schools could reasonably be determined to be child abuse. Further, barring the aggravating factor of causing some great harm, permanent disfigurement or permanent disability, we don't have specifics with regard to how severe the injury must be in order to qualify. Therefore, anything as small as a scratch or a red bottom from spanking could legally qualify as abuse.

Combine that with overzealous and/or underqualified agents of the Department of Children and Famlies, which is constantly taking heat for not doing enough to prevent abuse amid high rates of staff turnover and a number of high-profile tragedies, and too many find themselves facing the prospect of unfair prosecution. This is a terrifying prospect to both parents and caregivers, and it lends itself to the possibility that anything from horseplay to legitimate discipline may result in criminal charges.

Abuse of a child without great bodily harm is ranked as a third-degree felony in Florida, which is punishable by up to five years of imprisonment. Not to mention, a conviction on a felony child abuse charge will no doubt harm future employment prospects, and may prevent you from certain career fields (such as teaching or police work) altogether. Additionally, you may be prevented from obtaining public benefits, such as low-income housing, with this type of felony conviction. It may also affect current child custody arrangements.

We say this not to scare you but to make you aware of how critical it is to secure legal representation from a firm with proven experience. Some parents and caregivers in these situations make the mistake of assuming that because they know they weren't trying to hurt their child that they will be taken at their word in court. But even the prospect of having DCF in your life on an ongoing basis can all but insure a headache that will last well into the future.

In this case, a 24-year-old woman was wrestling with her boyfriend's 6-year-old while playing "the bite game." Ill-advised? Sure. Malicious? Probably not.

The boy later told investigators that the game consisted of seeing who could bite the hardest. The reward for winning would have been additional flair for his Halloween costume. However, the boy said he lost the game after his father's girlfriend bit him very hard on the thigh and shoulder.

Police were called by the child's mother after the boy returned from spending a weekend with his father. The father's girlfriend was arrested and subsequently gave an interview to police (which you should never do without the presence of your lawyer). She reportedly admitted to biting the child harder than normal - a statement that could literally come back to bite her later.

If you are facing allegations of child abuse in Broward or Palm Beach counties, contact the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert, a Partnership of Former Prosecutors, for a free consultation to discuss your rights. Call 1.888.5.DEFEND.

Additional Resources:
Woman charged with child abuse after biting boy, Boynton police say, Oct. 16, 2012, Staff Report, Sun Sentinel

More Blog Entries:
New Charges Can Have Serious Consequences for those on Probation in Broward County, Sept. 16, 2012, Broward Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog