Child Abuse

A parent or caretaker may use reasonable physical force to discipline or safeguard a child. But the parent or caretaker may not use physical force simply to inflict pain upon the child. Parents or caretaker cannot use physical force that is inhumane or cruel. Maryland’s child abuse statute applies to a child under 18 years of age.

In determining whether the physical force used was reasonable, all of the surrounding circumstances must be taken into consideration. Those circumstances can include factors such as the age, physical and mental condition of the child, the behavior that led to the use of physical force, the extent and duration of the physical contact with the child, and the impact or injury to the child, if any, resulting from the use of force.


Attorney for “Child Abuse” Crimes in Baltimore, Maryland

If you were charged with the crime of child abuse in the first or second degree, then contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at James E. Crawford, Jr. & Associates in Baltimore, Maryland. Call for a free and confidential consultation to discuss the facts of your case, the criminal charges being investigated, potential penalties for those offenses, and the best defenses to fight against a false or exaggerated accusation.

Never talk to a detective or anyone else until after you have retained an experienced criminal defense attorney. Seek out the services of an attorney as early as possible. Don’t wait to contact James E. Crawford, Jr. & Associates.

Call us at 443-709-9999 to schedule a consultation today.


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Elements of Child Abuse Crimes in the State of Maryland

Child abuse is divided up into the first and the second degree under Md. Code Ann., Crim. Law I § 3-601. Second-degree child physical abuse can be elevated to child abuse in the first degree if a parent or other qualified person caused abuse to the child that (1) resulted in the death of the child, or (2) caused severe physical injury to the child. Md. Code Ann., Crim. Law I § 3-601(b)(1).

In order to convict the defendant of child abuse, the prosecutor must prove the following elements of the offense:

  1. that the defendant caused physical injury to the child as a result of cruel or inhumane treatment or a malicious act;
  2. that, at the time of the conduct, the child was under 18 years of age;
  3. that, at the time of the conduct, the defendant was related to the child as:
    • a parent;
    • a family member;
    • a member of the household;
    • a person with permanent or temporary care, custody, or responsibility for the supervision of the child;
    • under a duty to care for the child because of a contract to provide care for victim;
  4. that, as a result, (name’s) health or welfare was harmed or threatened.

The term family member means a relative of the child by blood, adoption, or marriage. The term household member means a person who, at the time of the alleged abuse, lived with or was regularly present in the home of the child.

One of the best ways to understand this criminal offense is to look at the statute or the pattern jury instructions in Maryland for the crime of “child abuse” which can be found at MPJI-Cr 4:07.


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Protections for Reasonable Corporal Punishment in Maryland

Maryland’s laws against child abuse have always recognized that a parent or one standing in “loco parentis” is justified in applying reasonable force for the purpose of promoting a child’s welfare. In State v. Taylor, the Court of Appeals explained:

Long before the advent of contemporary child abuse legislation, it was a well-recognized precept of Anglo-American jurisprudence that the parent of a minor child or one standing in loco parentis was justified in using a reasonable amount of force upon a child for the purpose of safeguarding or promoting the child’s welfare. So long as the chastisement was moderate and reasonable, in light of the age, condition and disposition of the child, and other surrounding circumstances, the parent or custodian would not incur criminal liability for assault and battery or a similar offense.

On the other hand, where corporal punishment was inflicted with “a malicious desire to cause pain” or where it amounted to “cruel and outrageous” treatment of the child, the chastisement was deemed unreasonable, thus defeating the parental privilege and subjecting the parent to penal sanctions in those circumstances where criminal liability would have existed absent the parent-child relationship. Put another way, a parent was not permitted under the common law to resort to the punishment which would exceed “that properly required for disciplinary purposes” or which would extend beyond the bounds of moderation. “Excessive or cruel” conduct was universally throughout the State of Maryland.

Often called the “parental privilege,” common law recognized the use of reasonable force to discipline a child (often called reasonable corporal punishment) and holding that every instance of excessive or immoderate force that would have been sufficient to defeat the common law parental privilege would ipso facto constitute an act of child abuse under the child abuse statute.

Physical injury includes not only inflicting physical injury directly but also includes physical injury that results from the failure to prevent the aggravation of physical injury caused by another. In some cases, a person can be convicted of child abuse for failing to seek medical treatment for the child.


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Definition of a Parent or Other Qualified Person

In May of 2012, Maryland’s General Assembly passed Justice’s Law, S.B. 521, which amended Md. Code Ann., Crim. Law I § 3-601(b) by expanding the category of persons who may be convicted of first-degree child abuse to include family members and household members who have permanent or temporary care or custody or responsibility for the supervision of a minor. 2012 Md. Laws, ch. 249. The amendment to § 3-601(b) became effective on October 1, 2012. Id.

Now the statute provides, the crime of “child abuse” in Maryland is defined as physical injury of a child under 18 years of age caused by:

  • a parent
  • a family member
  • a member of the household of the child
  • a person with permanent or temporary care, custody, or responsibility for the supervision of the child
  • a person under a contractual duty to care for the child.

A person who has permanent or temporary care or custody is one who is in loco parentis with respect to a child. The term “loco parentis” is defined to mean an individual who intends to and does assume all of the obligations and receives all of the benefits of a natural parent. The statute also includes any person who has responsibility for the supervision of a child after entering into an express or implied mutually consensual arrangement, even on a temporary basis.

For these reasons, a school teacher, child case provider or babysitter has such responsibility. On the other hand, a person who takes in a lost child while attempting to find its parents or a person who allows neighborhood children to play in his or her yard does not generally have such a responsibility.

Once such a relationship is established, the one legally charged and the one who assumed responsibility for the child may mutually terminate the relationship. Also, the one legally charged may unilaterally terminate the relationship by resuming responsibility for the child, either expressly or by conduct. But if a person assumes the responsibility, that person may not terminate the relationship without the knowledge of the one legally charged.


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Penalties for Child Abuse in Maryland

Under Maryland law, a parent, family member, household member, or any other person who has permanent or temporary care, custody, or responsibility for the supervision of a minor may not cause abuse resulting in severe physical injury or death to the minor. The following penalties apply:

  • Child abuse which does not result in serious physical injury to or the death of the victim is child abuse in the second degree and is subject to a maximum term of imprisonment of 15 years. A sentence may be separate from and consecutive to or concurrent with a sentence for any crime based on the act that establishes the violation.
  • A violator is guilty of the felony of child abuse in the first degree and on conviction is subject to imprisonment for up to 25 years or, if the violation results in the death of the victim, imprisonment for up to 40 years.
  • A person who violates the child abuse laws after being convicted of a prior violation of the same provisions is guilty of a felony and is subject to imprisonment for up to 25 years.
  • If the violation results in the death of the victim, the violator is subject to imprisonment for up to 40 years.

The Maryland State Commission on Criminal Sentencing Policy advises that it received sentencing information for eight people sentenced for child abuse resulting in death in the State’s circuit courts during fiscal 2015. Each person was sentenced for one count of child abuse resulting in death. The sentences imposed for these eight counts ranged from 20 to 40 years, with an average sentence of 33.8 years, including suspended time.

Excluding suspended time, the average sentence imposed for the eight counts was 20.5 years and ranged from no incarceration to 40 years. According to information provided by DPSCS, during fiscal 2015, the department conducted intake on 48 individuals for whom child abuse was their most serious offense. The data did not distinguish between the degrees of child abuse involved or whether the offense involved the death of the victim.


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Who Reported Me for Child Abuse or Neglect?

Anyone can report cases of suspected child abuse or neglect. Certain people, including doctors, teachers, day care workers and health care professionals, are required to report cases of suspected abuse or neglect. It’s not unusual for an ex-spouse to allege child abuse or neglect in an attempt to obtain sole custody of children. Without a court order, case workers will not release the name of the person who made the report in your case. Even an older teenager may unwittingly open a “can of worms:’ and make an allegation of abuse based upon an unwanted spanking or discipline issue.

  • Child abuse allegations include some of the highest enhanced criminal penalties.
  • The Department of Social Services usually plays a part in making a “finding” and or “determination.”
  • The “Department” may label you an “abuser” under current Maryland Laws. If you receive such a letter indicating abuse from any State agency does not hesitate to cal me to protect your rights.
  • Child Abuse charges are also intertwined with child sexual abuse charges depending upon the allegations.
  • Sometimes it is necessary to hire our own “expert” to counter the Child Services reports.
  • The Maryland Sentencing Guidelines consider “abuse” of a child to be an enhancement.
  • It is important to understand that when these allegations arise you may have to deal with a criminal prosecution as well as an “abuse charge’ from Child Advocacy.
  • C.I.N.A actions (child in need of assistance) are riddled with pitfalls.

If case workers or a Prosecuting Attorney believe that the allegations are credible, your children can be taken from your home and placed with foster parents or relatives pending a hearing. Child Protective Services can order you to take parenting classes or meet other conditions before your children are returned to you. Child Protective Services can also begin an action to terminate your parental rights. In the worst case scenario. the State begins a criminal prosecution.


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Additional Resources

Child Abuse in Baltimore County – Visit the website of the Baltimore County Government Historic Courthouse to learn more about child abuse and local resources for children and their parents. The article was last revised on April 25, 2015. Find information about recognizing the signs of physical abuse or sexual abuse. Find steps to follow to avoid abusing a child including counting to 20 and putting the child in a timeout. chair.

Maryland Children’s Alliance – This non-profit organization created to better serve abused and neglected children by giving them a voice and by encouraging healing. Our goal is to support jurisdictions that are seeking to develop interdisciplinary teams and establish new Child Advocacy Centers while also enhancing the services available at existing Centers throughout Baltimore and the surrounding areas in Maryland.


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Finding a Lawyer for Child Abuse in Baltimore, Maryland

The child abuse statute proscribes infliction of physical injury as a result of cruel or inhumane treatment or a malicious act under circumstances that demonstrate that the child’s health or welfare is harmed or threatened. Id. § 3-601(a)(2).

Implicit in the concept of cruel or inhumane treatment or a malicious act is the incorporation of the common law rule permitting a moderate, reasonable, or appropriate amount of force for the purpose of discipline, considering the age, condition, and disposition of the child, plus other surrounding circumstances.

If you have been arrested for any type of violent crimes in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Howard County, Anne Arundel County, Carroll County or Harford County, then contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. We represent clients charged with a wide range of violent crimes including assault, domestic violence, and child abuse.

Call James E. Crawford, Jr. & Associates at 443-709-9999 for a free consultation.