South Florida Child Neglect Charges “Exaggerated,” Mom Says

By the description of Rivera Beach police officers, the home where a 12-year-old boy resided with his mother was a “house of horrors.”
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At least that’s what can be gleaned from a local news report. However, our Broward felony defense lawyers understand that description may be highly overstated. The mother in question is facing charges of child neglect, and claims those allegations are “exaggerated.”

So where do we delineate between a home that is messy and one that has crossed the line into neglect? The question has been raised more frequently as reality television shows like “Hoarders” have brought the issue to the forefront.

The answer is not clear-cut and may greatly depend on who answers the call.

Florida Statute 827.03 defines neglect as a caregiver’s failure or omission to provide a child with care, supervision and services necessary to maintain that child’s physical and mental health and well-being. This includes, but is not limited to, assurance of proper food and nutrition, clothing, medicine and medical services, supervision and shelter. The standard of determining what that actually means is whether such conditions would be considered essential by a “prudent person.”

In other words, the determination is highly subjective.

In this case, authorities were reportedly called to the residence by the boy who had hurt his knee and called 911. When officials arrived, they allegedly found “deplorable” conditions in the home. There was an “extreme foul odor” of both feces and urine throughout the home, with clothing, bedding and floors covered with dog feces. Certain bedrooms were deemed “impassable” due to garbage, clothing, bugs, food, and feces that covered the floor. The plumbing in one of the bathrooms was not functional. Urine covered the floor. There was a minimal amount of food in the home, and the home was cooled only by a small air conditioning unit that proved insufficient, making the place “unbearably hot.”

The police detective called the conditions “unsafe for any child or adult.”

The boy was initially seized by workers with the state Department of Children and Families, and the mother was arrested and charged with felony child neglect.

However, the boy was returned back to his mother – in that same home – that very night.

To hear the mother tell it, the story is quite different. The family just got a new dog, hence the dog messes scattered throughout the home. With regard to the air conditioning and plumbing, she said she’d been after the landlord for weeks to fix those problems, but he had been unresponsive.

She agreed there was little food in the home, but said that was because her food stamps had recently been discontinued and she didn’t get paid for another several days.

She denied that the home was covered with bugs and garbage and said that after a half an hour of cleaning, the home was deemed fit for the child to be returned.

She insisted she was innocent and her children were treated with “dignity and respect.”

Neglect of a child without great harm is considered a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. Even if a defendant doesn’t receive that much time, such a conviction could undoubtedly alter child custody or visitation arrangements.

Anyone facing such a charge should seek immediate counsel from an experienced criminal defense lawyer.

If you are charged with a crime in Palm Beach or Broward 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:
Mom says police allegations of ‘deplorable,’ feces-filled house are untrue, July 23, 2013, By Brett Clarkson, Sun Sentinel
More Blog Entries:
Fort Lauderdale Molestation Charges and Establishing a Proper Defense, June 12, 2013, Fort Lauderdale DUI Lawyer Blog

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