Nevada’s Child Neglect (i.e. Failure to Provide Care) Explained
The State of Nevada, like most other states, affords special protections for minors (children under 18). While the government stays out of family matters 99 percent of the time, it does require a minimum level of care and support by adults to their dependent children, including providing food, shelter, protection, and care. This article will go over the Nevada Revised Statutes Code Section 200.508, which addresses the five types of abuse. It will pay particular attention to neglect/failure to provide care, and how that it is expressed in the law. Next, this article will discuss the potential criminal exposure you could face if convicted on a charge of child neglect. Finally, this article will also review what the prosecutor must prove to secure a conviction for child neglect and the defenses you can raise.
Criminal Conviction Requirements – Generally
Every crime (with a few exceptions) requires the same critical elements: intent, physical act, and causation. Meaning, you must intend to commit the crime (or cause the result which comprises the crime to come about). You must perform the crime (including taking steps to complete the crime, such as an “attempted” crimes). Finally, your actions must cause the crime. For example, if you’re driving your car and get into an accident that kills some, you could be guilty of vehicular manslaughter. However, if it is later found out that you crashed because the brakes were not properly maintained – despite you taking your car in for repairs to the mechanic the previous week – then your actions didn’t cause the crime; the mechanic did.
What is NRS § 200.508?
NRS § 200.508 is Nevada’s child abuse law. Child abuse is defined as “willfully” causing a child who is younger than 18 years old “unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering.” It comprises five categories of abuse, including:
- Mental abuse;
- Physical abuse;
- Sexual abuse or exploitation;
- Endangerment; or
Child abuse is a “general intent” crime. There are two types of intent: general and specific. Specific intent means that you must intend to commit the crime (i.e. you must know you are committing a crime and want to complete the crime). Conversely, a general intent crime doesn’t require you to intend the break the law, or even know that there is a law prohibiting your behavior, it only requires you to intend to perform the act that is illegal. In this case, you don’t have to know what you’re doing is child abuse, you simply need to intent to act in a way that is defined as child abuse.
In Nevada, in general, that means you intend to do one of the following acts:
- Emotional abuse;
- Sexual abuse;
- Physical abuse;
If you intend to commit any of these acts, then you satisfy the general intent required of this crime. However, this article will specifically address example (5) – child neglect.
Nevada defines neglect as one of the two situations:
- Leaving a child without proper food, shelter, supervision, medicine, or other necessary care; or
- Abandoning the child.
You might notice that neglect is about not doing something, unlike the other abuse crimes, but it is still considered an abuse crime. You’re correct. Child neglect is about failing to provide care or protection for a minor dependent.
However, is leaving the child alone sufficient to result in a charge of child neglect? No it isn’t. You will recall from above that the NRS § 200.508 requires the prosecutor to prove that (1) abuse occurred (2) which unjustifiably harmed the child. In terms of neglect, the neglect must cause the child to suffer or be harmed in a way that is unjustifiable.
So, if you order your child to their room and take away their toys for an afternoon as punishment, that isn’t likely to result in a criminal charge because it is justified suffering. Furthermore, leaving a child who is responsible alone while you run an errand for an hour to two, may not result in a criminal charge either. However, if you leave a young child or an irresponsible child alone, and that child is injured, that could result in a criminal charge.
What if the child dies?
In general, offending parents won’t face criminal charges if their child dies as a result of neglect. Offending parents can be charged for murder if the abuse directly results in the child’s death, for example, physical abuse leading to death. However, if a parent runs an errand and the child accidentally starts a fire which results in the child’s death, the offending parent is more likely to face child neglect charges – not murder.
Possible Criminal Exposure
Exposure refers to the potential penalties an offending parent could face if he is convicted of child abuse or neglect.
Can you go to jail?
The answer: it depends. The more serious child neglect cases can and do result in prison or jail time, while other minor neglect matters might result in a fine, supervision by Child Welfare Services or some other punishment. The prosecutor and judge will review the facts of the case. However, you can expect the prosecutor to consider the five following factors in determining whether to send someone to prison for child neglect or abuse:
- Whether the abuse or neglect was willful (intentional);
- Whether severe harm occurred;
- Whether the abuse was sexual
- The age of the child; and
- Whether the accused has done this before.
This article will focus on how these factors are reviewed in a child neglect allegation. First, the prosecutor will determine whether the neglect was intentional. For example, if the parent was running an errand and intended to return home as soon as the errand was completed, the prosecutor is unlikely to think the neglect was intentional. However, if the parent abandoned the child for weeks and had no intention of returning, then the prosecutor is more likely to argue the neglect was intentional.
The severity of the harm suffered by the child depends on the facts of the case and the particular needs of the child. A child with special needs or who is young needs more supervision than a child who is a teenager or is responsible. A child who needs constant medical care is more likely to suffer substantial harm than one who is healthier. Finally, if the accused is a repeat offender, the prosecutor is more likely to push for more severe punishment, such as incarceration.
If the neglect was intentional and resulted in substantial mental or bodily harm (like locking a child in a box for days on end), and the child is under 13 years old, then the matter could be charged as category A felony. Category A felonies are life sentences with the possibility of parole only after 15 years have passed. If not, the accused parent can be charged as a category B felony which carries a prison term of 2 to 20 years.
If the abuse was intentional but no serious harm occurred, when you can be charged under a category B felony but face prison time of no more than 1 to 6 years. However, if the accused is a repeat offender, she may face incarceration in a state prison for up to 15 years.
You can usually expect the prosecutor to offer the accused a plea bargain. Plea bargains are deals with prosecutors in which the accused confesses to the illegal act in return for reduced charges and criminal penalties. Commonly, prosecutors will allow the accused to plead guilty to contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Furthermore, the accused can often avoid incarceration and receive probation, community service, therapy or education classes, and other rehabilitative penalties.
If you’re charged with a felony and convicted, you are required to report it on government applications. You could also lose professional licenses, including licenses to practice medicine or law.
Finally, if you’re an immigrant with a green card or permanent residence, you could be deported. The Department of Homeland Security considers child neglect a deportable offense. If you are an immigrant, you should retain defense counsel with experience in immigration matters or hire an immigration attorney.
The prosecutor must prove that (1) you’re responsible for the child; (2) you failed to provide adequate care for the child; and (3) that failure resulted in substantial unjustifiable harm to the child. Therefore, to fight a charge of child neglect, you can attack the prosecutor’s foundation for the case against you or come up with an explanation or excuse for one of the pillars of the case.
You could argue the substantial harm suffered by the child was an accident. Remember, the prosecutor must prove you intended to neglect or abandon the child. So, if the child suffered harm that was an accident (i.e. you didn’t see intend to neglect the child), then you aren’t guilty of child neglect.
For example, if you called a sitting service because you needed to run out for an emergency errand (perhaps taking another child to the doctor) and the sitting service failed to send a babysitter or sent the sitter to the wrong house, and your child suffered an injury after being neglected – you could argue it was an accident.
It’s hard to imagine, but all kids like – including your kids. Parents have been brought up on charges by over-eager prosecutors based on stories or lies told by their children. Moreover, children may not even appreciate that what they are saying is a lie. Younger children perceive time and the world differently than adults, what might have seemed like an eternity was only a few hours in their room for punishment. If you are falsely accused, an expert could testify as to the mental state of the child, the injuries they suffered, or other possible defenses.
This example has been used time and again but there is a reason for it – the harm the child suffers must be unjustified. Accordingly, if you sent your child to their room as punishment – it should not result in criminal charges for neglect.
Similar to the sitter example above, parents often rely on their parents and relatives to assist in raising children. The old maxim “it takes a village” rings true today as it did 300 years ago. If the parent leaves the child with a relative, and the parent had no reason to know the child was suffering abuse at the hands of the relative, then the parent isn’t guilty of abuse or neglect.
Finally, leaving a child alone is insufficient for a charge of neglect. The child must suffer a harm. But, don’t think that “harm” is limited to physical harm. If the child is unable to go to school because her parent left her alone at home for days without supervision, then the child was likely neglected and that parent could be charged.
Help Finding a Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me
If you need help finding a professional to assist you with a child neglect allegation or other criminal defense matter near you, contact the Law Offices of Martin Hart at 702-380-4278 for assistance. The Law Offices of Martin Hart, LLC, is a full-service criminal defense law firm that represents residents throughout Clark County and beyond including the cities of Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Henderson, Laughlin, Mesquite, and all over Nevada. If you or a loved needs representation, call our Las Vegas Criminal Defense Attorney today.