Child Abuse & Neglect Defense Attorneys in Sussex and Warren County, NJ
Handling Criminal Child Abuse Charges and New Jersey DCPP Cases
Often, if a person is being criminal charged for an act of child abuse or neglect in New Jersey, he or she is charged with endangering the welfare of a child. Separate from the endangering statute is the NJ cruelty and neglect law. The cruelty and neglect statute is not listed in the New Jersey Criminal Code. The law itself is codified under Title 9, which governs our Children, Juvenile and Domestic Relations Courts. Nevertheless, the law is still enforceable and if found guilty, the individual will be facing criminal sanctions. Generally, child abuse and neglect cases not only involve criminal allegations but also an investigation by the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (“DCP&P”), formerly known as the Division of Youth and Family Services (“DYFS”). Whether you are accused of criminal child abuse and neglect or DCP&P is involved, or both, the Sussex and Warren County child abuse and neglect attorneys can help. Our experienced team of child abuse and neglect defense lawyers has handled abuse and neglect matters in Superior Courts across New Jersey, including criminal matters and DCP&P matters and we are always available for a free phone consultation. Contact us at 973-755-1695 if you are facing child abuse or neglect accusations. We can assist with all aspects of your defense.
Acts of Child Abuse under New Jersey Law
Under New Jersey’s criminal child abuse laws set forth at N.J.S.A. 9:6-1 and N.J.S.A. 9:6-3, any parent, guardian, or person having the care, custody or control of any child, who shall abuse, abandon, be cruel to or neglectful of any child shall be deemed to be guilty of a crime of the fourth degree.
The criminal child abuse statute in New Jersey outlines that “abuse of a child shall consist in any of the following acts: (a) disposing of the custody of a child contrary to law; (b) employing or permitting a child to be employed in any vocation or employment injurious to its health or dangerous to its life or limb, or contrary to the laws of this State; (c) employing or permitting a child to be employed in any occupation, employment or vocation dangerous to the morals of such child; (d) the habitual use by the parent or by a person having the custody and control of the child, in the hearing of such child, or profane, indecent or obscene language; (e) the performing of any indecent, immoral or unlawful act or deed, in the presence of the child, that may tend to debauch or endanger or degrade the morals of the child; (f) permitting or allowing any other person to perform an indecent, immoral or unlawful act in the presence of the child that may tend to debauch or endanger the morals of such child; (g) using excessive physical restraint on the child under circumstances which do not indicate that the child’s behavior is harmful to himself, others or property; or (h) in an institution, as defined in N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.21, willfully isolating the child from ordinary social contact under circumstances which indicate emotional or social deprivation.”
Penalties for Fourth Degree Child Abuse Charges in NJ
The child abuse statute specifically states that any parent, guardian or person having the care, custody or control of any child, who abuses, abandons, is cruel to, or neglects a child, is guilty of a crime of the fourth degree. The penalties for fourth degree child abuse or neglect in New Jersey include up to eighteen months in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
Child Abuse Allegations Charged as Endangerment
The law overlaps and covers most of the same conduct that the endangering statute prohibits. As a result, most prosecutors simply charge the accused with endangering. Moreover, the corresponding penalties and sanctions for the endangering statute are more severe. Plus, endangering the welfare of a child is a second-degree offense if the defendant is a parent or a person who assumed care over the child. As a result, the defendant is presumed ineligible for Pre-Trial Intervention, which is a first-time offender program that may lead to a dismissal of the charges. On top of that, if the endangering charge involves sexual conduct, the defendant may not seek an expungement and must also register as a sex offender. Thus, it is very advantageous for the State to charge a person with endangering the welfare of a child over cruelty and neglect.
As discussed above, if a parent or person who assumes care over a child, is convicted of endangering the welfare of a child, he or she is guilty of a crime of the second degree. As a result, the defendant is subject to a prison term between five to ten years and a fine up to $150,000. In addition, if the underlying conduct is a sexual act, the individual will be required to register as a sex offender under Megan’s Law. Furthermore, the conviction cannot be expunged.
If, on the other hand, the individual pleads guilty or is found guilty of cruelty or neglect under Title 9, he or she is facing 18-months in prison and a fine of $10,000. Nonetheless, for most fourth-degree cases, the person is given probation and for first time offenders, they are enrolled into the Pre-Trial Intervention Program. Moreover, the cruelty or neglect charge may be expunged after the passage of six years or, if the person completes PTI, he or she may file a petition after only six-months.
DCPP and Parallel Criminal Proceedings for Abuse or Neglect
Separate from the criminal charges, the Division of Child Protection and Permanency, otherwise known as DCP&P, may also file a complaint against the parents. In fact, it is common for child welfare proceedings to run at the same time as criminal cases. However, the speed of each proceeding tends to move at different paces. Criminal matters move slowly and a trial is usually not scheduled for over a year after the charges are brought. However, child welfare matters move more swiftly and a fact-finding hearing is typically heard within 6-months.
Not every child abuse matter results in criminal charges being filed. The County Prosecutor’s Office has discretion to decide how it wishes to utilize its resources and as such, it may choose which cases it wishes to pursue and whether to file charges. Under both Title 9 and Title 10 of our Administrative Code, the Division is required to report certain cases to the authorities. Specifically, in cases where a child dies, is subjected to or exposed to sexual activity, suffers a serious injury resulting in hospitalization or significant medical treatment, repeated instances of physical violence, or the child is abandoned, a referral by DCP&P is mandatory. However, upon receiving the referral, the Prosecutor’s Office has the option of whether it wishes to pursue the matter.
If criminal charges are filed at the same time as a DCP&P case, this can be a very difficult situation for any parent. To start, they are up against two government entities with unlimited resources. Further, both the Division and Prosecutor’s Office tend to work together and exchange information to ultimately convict the accused. As such, any statements or evidence found in one case may be utilized in the other matter. For example, as noted above, most DCP&P cases proceed to trial first. There, the Division may be seeking to obtain custody over the parent’s child and place the minor into foster care. Accordingly, the parent must make a choice. Do I testify in hopes of keeping my child, or do I remain silent because any statements I make may be utilized in my criminal case, which, if convicted, may result in a lengthy prison sentence? Also, if the criminal case is resolved first, usually that occurs if the defendant pleads guilty, the conviction may be used in the child welfare proceeding. It is unquestionably a no-win situation and unfortunately, there is no simple answer to resolve that problem. Every case is different. In some matters, it is best to testify and do whatever it takes to win the DCP&P proceeding. In other situations, the parents need to take a more measured and balanced approach.
Do I Need a Lawyer to Defend me in a Child Abuse Case in New Jersey?
The interplay of both cases can be difficult for parents. Again, many are faced with the tremendously difficult decision of whether to fight for their children or their personal freedom. With that said, this is not a choice that most parents can make on their own. Also, the decision of whether to testify is not the only conflict a parent will be facing. Throughout the litigation with DCP&P, the parents will be asked to engage in services, submit to drug tests, and will have some interaction with the caseworker. All of the above may be utilized by the Prosecutor’s Office and may have a negative impact on the criminal case. Thus, it is necessary to have an experienced attorney who can both educate parents on the law and guide clients through the process. Most importantly, an effective attorney can help you decide what can be done and what can be said in the child welfare case without placing the parent in jeopardy during the criminal matter.
A strong attorney can also remove the conflict through the Pretrial Intervention Program.
As articulated earlier, most prosecutor’s will charge a parent with second-degree endangering. Accordingly, it is very different for that particular parent to be accepted into PTI. Plus, to enter the program, the mother or father must admit guilt. As such, that admission may be used against them in their child welfare case. However, an excellent strategy is to try to convince the prosecutor to amend the charges to fourth-degree cruelty and neglect. As a result, because the charges are no-longer in the second degree range, the parent may be enrolled into PTI much easier and most importantly, they do not have to plead guilty. On top of that, the criminal matter is close to resolved. Meaning, the State is no longer gathering evidence and seeking to convict. By entering the program, the Prosecutor’s Office has agreed to divert prosecution. Therefore, the parent now has more leeway in their DCP&P case to defend themselves.
Contact Child Abuse Lawyers in Belvidere & Newton, NJ
Regardless of the kind of child abuse and neglect allegation you may be facing in Sussex or Warren County, the criminal defense lawyers at The Tormey Law Firm can help. We are experienced in all aspects of child abuse, neglect and endangerment laws and we are ready to help defend you against any allegations you may be facing. If you are accused of or charged with child abuse in Phillipsburg, Sparta, Hackettstown, Newton, Belvidere, Vernon, Hopatcong, Frankford, or another town in New Jersey, you should not hesitate to contact our office to speak with an attorney who can help. Free consultations are offered around the clock by calling 973-755-1695.