Child Abuse

The State of Florida defines child abuse under Section 827.03(1) in the Florida Statutes. This criminal offense can take the form of three different situations:

  • A purposeful act that could result in emotional or physical harm to a child

  • Deliberate administration of psychological or physical harm to a child

  • Actively encouraging another person to commit an action that would result or could reasonably result in mental or bodily injury to a child

For the prosecution to prove the crime of child abuse in Florida, they must establish two elements beyond a reasonable doubt.

Proving the Crime of Child Abuse

Proving child abuse in Florida requires two elements be present in the crime for there to be no reasonable doubt:

  • The defendant in the case had to administer mental or physical harm to the victim intentionally. They had to have performed an intentional act that reasonably could be expected to result in psychological or physical harm to the victim. The defendant had to actively encourage another to perform an action that resulted in or could reasonably have been expected to result in mental or physical harm to the victim.

  • The alleged victim has to be under the age of 18 years to be considered a child.

If you have been charged with abusing a child, you need a strong legal defense as these are serious allegations. You want an attorney who is experienced, skilled, and aggressive to help defend you against the charge. Do not make a statement if you have been falsely accused of abusing a child physically. This includes not talking with the child’s doctor, nurse, teacher, law enforcement officials, or the Florida Department of Children and Families. You need your attorney present before making any formal statements.

Allegations of Child Abuse

Any time you are charged with child abuse, you are facing severe criminal implications. These are severe allegations because of the potential criminal punishments which can be enforced under Florida State laws. Being arrested in itself means that as a parent, you could be terminated from your job and lose any standing you have established in your community. These repercussions stand even if the charges end up being dropped.

Florida Statute 827.03, defines child abuse. It states that this crime or aggravated child abuse can be charged as a felony criminal offense. The exact charge will depend on the circumstances of the alleged physical or mental harm done to the child.

Elements Involved with a Criminal Charge of Child Abuse

Anyone, man or woman, who willfully and knowingly abuses a child by causing bodily harm, permanent disfigurement, or permanent disability to a child faces a felony charge of the third degree. If convicted of this charge, the punishment is up to five years in a Florida Prison along with a $1,000 fine.

The prosecution has to prove the two elements listed above beyond a reasonable doubt for a conviction to be handed down by the courts. There are different forms of child abuse under Florida Law:

  • Aggravated Child Abuse- Section 827.03

    Aggravated child abuse is considered a felony in the first degree. If convicted of this crime, you would face thirty years in a Florida State Prison. The prosecution will have to prove aggravated child abuse by showing aggravated battery upon a child that occurred beyond a reasonable doubt.

    1. The defendant committed a battery against the child by striking them intentionally, and the strike has caused harm to the child.

    2. During the battery incident, the defendant willfully or knowingly caused permanent disability to the victim, permanent disfigurement, or great bodily harm. The harm was inflicted with the use of a deadly weapon, which defined, means the weapon was used in a manner that threatened or was likely to cause great bodily harm or death.

    A person who is convicted of aggravated child abuse in Florida faces felony charges in the first degree and could spend thirty years in a Florida State Prison. This charge also includes when someone willfully tortures, willfully and unlawfully cages a child, or maliciously punishes a child.

    If these acts are committed willfully and knowingly as abuse to a child and cause permanent disfigurement, or disability, or great bodily harm to a child, that person will be charged with aggravated child abuse and punished according to Florida State Law.

  • Aggravated Child Neglect

    The crime of aggravated child neglect in Florida is considered a second-degree felony. If convicted of this charge, you would face up to fifteen years in Florida State Prison. This crime violates Statute 827.03(2)(b) and occurs when as a caregiver of a child you willfully neglect to provide a child with the supervision, care and necessary services they require to maintain physical and mental health. This care is considered what any reasonable person would call essential for the well-being of the child.

    You are also guilty of aggravated child neglect if you do not make a reasonable effort to protect a child from exploitation by another person or protect them from neglect or abuse by another person.

    The prosecution of this charge will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant’s action or inaction did cause permanent disability, permanent disfigurement, or great bodily harm to the child.

  • Culpable Negligence is Child Abuse

    We all must act reasonably towards other people. A violation of this duty when there is no conscious intention to harm another is considered negligence and is not a crime. Culpable negligence is a reckless action and more than a failure of using ordinary care toward another person. This action shows disregard for human life or their safety when they are being exposed to dangerous situations. Culpable negligence demonstrates a recklessness, wantonness, and gross careless disregard for the safety and welfare of the public.

    Culpable negligence is considered child abuse when one consciously performs an act or follows a course of action that any reasonable person knows will result in causing a child great bodily harm or death.

  • When Neglect of a Child is Child Abuse

    There must be one of four factors present when accusing someone of neglecting a child:

    1. As a caregiver of a child, you did not provide the child with proper supervision, care, or services needed to maintain the child’s mental and physical health. The child also cannot have been without essential things necessary for their well-being. These things include nutrition, clothing, shelter, food, medicine, supervision, or essential medical services.

    2. The caregiver for the child cannot fail at making a reasonable effort to protect the child from abuse, exploitation, or neglect from another person. The charge of abuse will be based on the repeated conduct, just a single act, or the omission of an act that results in or could reasonably be expected to cause harm as either a mental injury or a physical injury or possible risk of death for the child.

    3. A person who by negligence, which is considered culpable (their fault) causes the child to receive severe bodily harm. Conviction of these charges results in a felony of the second degree and is punishable as provided in Statutes 775.082, 775.083, or 775.084.

    4. A person who by culpable negligence or willfully neglects a child without causing great bodily harm to a child is considered guilty of a felony in the third degree punishable as stated in statutes 775.082, 775.083, and 775.084.

The child abuse statute uses the term ‘maliciously,’ which interpreted means wrongfully, with no legal justification, or excuse. Abusive, cruel, or maliciousness is established by events from which it can be concluded that a reasonable parent would not have committed the damaging acts toward the child for any reason. It means the purpose of the action was to cause unjustifiable injury or pain to the child.

Florida Laws Regarding Child Abuse

In the State of Florida under Statue 827.03(b) there are three ways in which you are guilty of committing child abuse. The act can be the purposeful infliction of mental or physical injury, and a deliberate act that could be expected to harm the child either physically or psychologically, or actively encouraging another to commit an act that would result in mental or physical injury to the child.

According to the laws in Florida, you do not have to physically touch the child or cause an injury to be convicted of child abuse. These are examples of what is considered child abuse under Florida law:

  • If you commit a violent act in front of a child, you can be charged with child abuse. This act would be considered an infliction of mental injury. If the prosecution can prove a psychological injury occurred with the child in question such as they now have a mental disorder like PTSD, and you intended to inflict this injury, you would be charged with child abuse without ever having touched the child or caused any physical form of harm.

  • You can be charged with child abuse if, for example, you encourage your sixteen-year-old child to participate in a neighborhood fight. By just using a few words of encouragement to your child for them to join in a fight, you are guilty of child abuse. Saying words like, “Go ahead and punch him,” or “ I dare you to juggle those knives,” are considered encouragement and could have you facing child abuse charges under Florida law.

  • If your child is injured while playing a game of tackle football, you could be charged with child abuse. If the prosecution can prove you knew the act of tackling could cause physical injury, the State can charge you with child abuse.

What Happens if Child Abuse is Suspected

If a police officer believes an act you committed constitutes child abuse, they will arrest you. The case will go before the prosecutor, and if they agree with the police officer, then your case proceeds to the prosecution for charges. A judge will then review the charges, and if they agree with the prosecutor, your case will go before a jury. The jury will decide if you are guilty or innocent of the charges.

You may be able to use the defense of ‘corporal punishment’ if you were arrested for spanking your child as a form of discipline. If arrested for suspected child abuse, you will want to contact your attorney immediately.

Is Spanking Considered Child Abuse Under the Law?

An unwritten rule enforced by child protective services, law enforcement, and the prosecutors is if an act of discipline leaves a mark on the child anywhere other then their buttocks, then it is considered an act of child abuse. However, this unwritten rule can lead to a lot of innocent parents being arrested for charges that ultimately cannot be proven.

A person standing in ‘loco parentis’ (in the place of a parent) has the right to moderately chastise as a means of correction for a child under their authority or control. There is nothing written in the Florida statute that prohibits a parent or loco parentis of moderately chastising or correcting a child under their authority or control.

The Florida Supreme Court reviewed the laws defining Florida’s child abuse laws and how they interplay with other rules in regards to the parental privilege of corporal punishment. The majority recognized that a parent or loco parentis has the right to reasonably discipline a child when under their authority or control.

Defense of Child Neglect Charges

Aggravated child neglect or child neglect are considered severe charges in Florida. When facing these charges, you need an aggressive and experienced attorney on your side who understands the Florida laws and knows their way through the court system. It can be argued that:

  • You were negligent but not culpably negligent according to the state statues

  • That you were not the cause of the injuries, the child in the case suffered.

  • You were not the caregiver of the child in question at the time injuries were sustained,

  • That you were not aware, the child needed intervention by law enforcement or a doctor

  • You did provide the necessary care and services to the child in question

  • Your actions were not sufficiently negligent, flagrant, or willful

  • You displayed reasonable efforts to protect the child from neglect or abuse

  • The injuries occurred as a result of a mistake, accident, or misunderstanding

  • You had a reasonable belief that another person was caring for the child

  • The injury or harm suffered by the child was not reasonably foreseeable

The laws regarding child neglect in Florida are not intended to criminally punish parents or caregivers of children when they make innocent human errors or suffer momentary lapses of supervision. Accidents are inevitable, and a tragedy does not become less by prosecuting individuals who lack the requirements of criminal intent.

Parental Authority Defense Against Child Abuse Charges

Offensive touching is considered battery under Florida law, so the act of spanking has come up in cases of child abuse as just that- offensive touching. Technically; however, a parent can assert their ‘parental authority’ defense when accused of child abuse for spanking their child.

Florida’s child abuse statutory strategy, according to the Higher Court’s decision in the Radford case, states a parent, or one in charge of the child’s well-being who is charged with child abuse can raise the affirmative defense of parental authority be proving:

  • The parent and the defendant are the same person and are the legal parent or loco parentis of the child in question

  • The defendant’s act constituted corporal punishment

  • The punishment was nonexcessive and reasonable

The loco parentis doctrine under Florida law recognizes a person standing in for a parent is a relative of the child, babysitter, or teacher.

There is an unwritten rule the law enforcement officials use in charges of spanking a child as a disciplinary action. It is a much lower standard than the ‘intentional infliction of physical injury,’ or intentional act to reasonably expect a physical injury.’ The law in Florida recognizes the parent’s rights to discipline their children through the act of spanking. However, some factors are taken into consideration when a charge is filed against a parent for a spanking that determines if there was a child abuse action:

  • How old is the child

  • How many times was the child struck during the spanking

  • How was the spanking delivered and was a tool such as a belt, rod, or switch involved

  • Did the spanking result in a mark on the child’s skin such as an abrasion, welt, or bruise

  • Have there been past allegations of child neglect or abuse for the parent involved

  • Does the parent have any prior criminal history

When facing charges of child abuse for disciplining your child through a spanking, you need legal representation from an experienced defense attorney. Florida takes child abuse charges very seriously, and you could be jeopardizing your future and the future of your child without proper legal counsel.

What is Not Considered Child Abuse in Florida?

There is not a lot of rules or guidance as to what is NOT child abuse in the Florida courts. Reasonable physical discipline has been ruled as NOT child abuse if it is dealt out on the child’s buttocks and does not leave marks such as bruises or welts. An attorney could get your charges dropped or dismissed if you’ve been arrested for spanking your child because of negative behavior on their part.

For most cases, if you are arrested for child abuse, a jury will decide if you are guilty of child abuse or not after your trial. Your attorney can raise the defense of parental discipline and show your actions were reasonable physical discipline for misbehavior. This defense will apply to a parent or a loco parentis if there are no visible signs of physical or mental harm from the action. The jury will decide if the act can be considered reasonable. If there are injuries, the jury is less likely to believe the discipline was necessary.

Penalties for Child Neglect

A criminal offense, when charged as ‘neglect of a child’ in Florida, will be classified as a felony. If the abuse or neglect did not result in permanent disfigurement or disability or cause great bodily harm, it would be considered a third-degree felony and the penalties can be either five years in a state prison or five years of probation along with a $5,000 fine.

If bodily harm were inflicted, the charge would then be a felony in the second-degree with a penalty of either fifteen years probation or fifteen years in a State prison along with a $10,000 fine. If convicted, the neglect of a child conviction is going to have negative impacts on parental rights and could lead to the termination of those rights.

Penalties for Child Abuse

Florida Statue 827.03(2)(c) defines child abuse as a purposeful act that causes or reasonably could be expected to harm a child emotionally or physically. The child is defined as anyone under the age of eighteen, and their caregiver is defined as the parent, adult household member, or another party responsible for the welfare of the child.

Child abuse is a third-degree felony and is punishable for up to five years in prison, five years probation, along with a fine up to $5,000. Child abuse is considered a Level 4 offense in the severity ranking system in Florida’s Criminal Punishment Code. A judge can choose to sentence a person convicted of the crime of child abuse to probation. They can also choose to punish a convicted person of child abuse up to the statutory five years in prison, which is the maximum.

Difference Between Child Abuse and Child Neglect

Unfortunately, Florida state attorneys are often overzealous and eager to charge persons with child abuse, when the details of the case indicate child neglect. It is vital to your case that the distinctions between these two charges be identified to proceed with defending the charges.

Child abuse requires some overt act of abuse towards the child. Excessive corporal punishment would be an example since the Legislature in Florida has eliminated this means of defense for a felony child abuse charge. The easiest way to define child abuse is that it is a harmful act a parent or legal guardian has done to the child.

Child neglect is a charge where someone fails to perform one of two things for a child. They either fail to provide care and supervision when necessary to maintain the child’s mental and physical health, or they fail to make a reasonable effort to protect the child from neglect, abuse, or exploitation by another person.

Find a Child Abuse Attorney Near Me

If you or someone you know is facing charges of either child abuse or child neglect, you need legal representation immediately. Call Arnold Law 904-264-3627 today to discover what your options are for defending yourself against these charges. Protect yourself and protect your child by calling today.



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Our office is located across the street from the Clay County Courthouse in Green Cove Springs at the same intersection as the CVS Pharmacy. Although we are located in Clay County, we assist all Florida residents and counsel anyone who needs help with issues related to Florida law. To schedule an office or phone consultation please call or stop by our office location. We look forward to your call: 904-264-3627 or 904-284-5618.