What If I’m Accused of Hurting a Minor?September 13, 2018
Hurting a minor: it’s a serious accusation, especially if you’re accused of hurting your own child or if you have children living in your home. If you’ve been accused of hurting a minor in any way, it’s important that you have the right legal support on your side. Child abuse is a serious criminal accusation and you want to be sure that you aren’t charged for crimes you did not commit.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to prove a negative. While there must be proof of a crime in order for you to be charged, and the burden of demonstrating guilt beyond a reasonable doubt rests with criminal prosecutors, even an unfounded accusation of abuse or harm to a child can ruin your reputation, harm your career, and create a number of other problems in your life. For that reason, it’s critical you seek legal representation as soon as possible after an accusation against you.
Complying with an Investigation, With Help From a Lawyer
Any number of circumstances can lead to untrue accusations of child abuse. If the child is your own, you might, for example, you may have been accused of child abuse by an overzealous schoolteacher or by other adults who have frequent contact with the child. You might also be accused of child abuse in connection with a contentious custody battle with a former spouse. In other cases, you may be falsely accused of child abuse by parents who are attempting to deflect the blame from themselves or who are unsure how their child suffered an injury while in your care.
Regardless of the circumstances of the accusation, however, it can be important to comply with any investigation that results from it, with advice from experienced legal counsel to protect your rights. Your cooperation can help reassure investigators that you are being truthful, but can also put you in legal jeopardy if you are not familiar with the pitfalls. Investigations may be conducted by child welfare agencies or law enforcement, and can include psychological assessments of you or your children, home visits, and intrusive interviews of your acquaintances. Following your lawyer’s recommendations concerning these interactions can help you walk what often feels like a tightrope between establishing your innocence on one hand, and not inadvertently saying something that prolongs the investigation or heightens suspicion on the other.
If you are unfairly accused of harming a child in connection with a divorce or custody battle, keep calm and try to trust the process. Family courts and lawyers understand the high emotional charge of these disputes, and have “seen it all” when it comes to wild claims from ex-spouses. An accusation in this setting is not an immediate ticket to losing visitation or custody. While you still may have to endure an investigation (again, with help from your lawyer), false allegations have a good chance of harming the accuser far more than they harm you. A family court judge who determines you’ve been falsely accused may even choose to alter the custody arrangement in your favor, out of concern that someone who makes up vicious lies cannot be trusted with sole custody of children.
Collecting Evidence of Innocence
One of the biggest challenges of being accused of harming a child can be proving that you didn’t do anything wrong. Your lawyer can help you determine what types of evidence you can collect to help establish your innocence. They might include:
Providing proof of reasonable care. Sometimes, children get hurt while in your care through no fault of your own. They fall from playground equipment. They wreck their bikes. They jump from the stairs when you’re not looking. Establishing that a childhood injury was innocent, and not the result of your negligence, can be an important step in showing you did nothing wrong. This might include showing that you warned the child not to participate in specific activities or that you carefully studied an activity or item to ensure that it was safe for the child, even if it proved not to be as safe as originally thought. You may also need to provide proof that you did not deliberately ignore something that could have been a danger to the child in your care: for example, leaving the back door unlocked when you know a child is prone to sneaking outside.
Giving a statement about the events as soon as possible afterwards. Were you accused of hurting a child during a specific event: while they were staying in your home, at a specific activity, or during a specific time? Creating a statement about what happened as soon as possible after the accusation, with the advice of a lawyer, can help avoid future inaccuracies and ensure that your statement is collected while the event is fresh in your mind. This is particularly important if a child was injured while in your care, but through no fault of yours.
Collecting statements from witnesses. Statements may be particularly important if there were witnesses to the event in question; however, even if there were no witnesses to the event, it may be useful to collect statements from people who know you and have observed you interacting with the minor in question. Are there people who can attest to your bond with your children? Have you been regularly observed in your interactions with children in a classroom or other environment? Your lawyer will work with you to identify the appropriate people to give statements on your behalf.
There is a wide range of defenses when it comes to accusations of child abuse, including:
- Accidental harm, such as accidentally shutting a child’s hand in a car door or tripping them when you’re playing outside together
- Reasonable discipline that does not cause actual harm
- Injury that has nothing to do with child abuse, such as when the child falls on their own or is harmed while playing with another child
- Religious beliefs that lead to what might be called neglect by other parents, such as refusing to treat an illness
If you’ve been accused of harming a minor, it’s important that you have the right legal representation as soon as possible. Contact us online today or call us at 215-546-0340 to schedule a consultation and lean about how we might help you protect your rights.