The Many Ways You Can Be Charged with Child Endangerment in Texas

By March 21, 2018January 29th, 2021Child Endangerment

Original Post: March 21, 2018. Updated: January 22, 2021 Child Endangerment

The Many Ways You Can Be Charged with Child Endangerment in Texas

You may be surprised as to what constitutes child endangerment and child abandonment in Texas. In this post, we’ll detail examples under the law and explain the penalties for child endangerment and abandoning a child. We’ll also tell you what your criminal attorney can do to fight back if you’re facing charges in Fort Worth, Texas or any other county in Texas.

Texas’ Laws on Child Endangerment

Under Texas law, Parents and legal guardians have a duty to provide reasonable care for their children. The child should be protected from situations that pose unreasonable risk to his or her safety and well-being.

If a person puts a child in a situation that can cause harm to the child, it is considered child endangerment under Texas law. The law punishes anyone who either abandons or endangers a child age 15 or under.

Child Endangerment: A Former DA Breaks Down The Law! (2021)

In Texas, it is unlawful to leave a child without reasonable care, in any place or situation. The courts consider what other reasonable adults would do according to the child’s age and ability in each unique situation.

Here is the hard part in determining whether a set of facts constitutes child endangerment – people have different ideas of what is reasonable. The determination of what is reasonable is a fact issue that is determined by a jury if a child endangerment case goes to trial.

For some potential jurors that qualify as “helicopter parents,” they may believe that even allowing an older child to be alone for any period of time would constitute child endangerment.

Other jurors may routinely allow their younger children to roam the streets unattended. As you can see, what is “reasonable” is in the eye of the beholder.

There are some instances that more clearly illustrate the reasonable adult standard.

For example, allowing a 13-year-old to browse in a store a few aisles away from a parent would likely be considered reasonable.

However, the same situation with a 3-year-old child would be unreasonable. The abandonment must be determined according to reasonable measures.

Breaking Down Examples of Child Endangerment in Texas

Child Endangerment is more extreme than Child Abandonment. One example of this is child endangerment charges involving vehicles.

Child endangerment can take many forms, but if you start looking at enough cases, you’ll notice that many of them have something in common. Check out these examples to see what we mean:

  1. A San Francisco high school administrator was arrested for child endangerment and intoxicated driving. She called 911 to report that her keys had been stolen and was asked to leave a restaurant after causing a disturbance. When police arrived, they found the keys in her purse and observed that she was under the influence of alcohol. They advised her to find a different ride home and not drive. However, the woman left the scene in her car, so the police pulled her over and arrested her for drunk driving. Because two children were passengers in her vehicle, she is also facing child endangerment charges.
  2. A North Chicago man was arrested in March on several counts. They include driving under the influence, speeding, improper lane usage, failure to restrain a child in a safety seat, and six counts of child endangerment.

Did you note the common denominator? Every single case involved a vehicle. Many Texas child endangerment cases involve automobiles – but why? We will detail the different ways the law says you can endanger your child in a vehicle, and what you can do if you have been charged with child endangerment.

Methods of Child Endangerment Involving Vehicles

Texas law prohibits several kinds of behaviors that could endanger a child.

The statute reads this way: “A person commits an offense if he intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence, by act or omission, engages in conduct that places a child younger than 15 years in imminent danger of death, bodily injury, or physical or mental impairment.”

Here are the ways the law can apply when you’re in a vehicle:

  • Reckless Driving Speeding, tailgating, changing lanes or other forms of reckless driving put you, your child, and others at risk. You could face traffic violations along with child endangerment charges if your child is riding with you.
  • Intoxication When you operate a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or another controlled substance, you can face drunk driving charges. If a child is riding with you in the vehicle while you are under the influence, you could face child endangerment charges on top of aggravated drunk or drugged driving charges.
  • No seatbelt or car seat Seatbelts and car seats are required under Texas law. If you are pulled over for a traffic violation and your child is not restrained by a seatbelt or using a car seat according to age and weight guidelines, you could face child endangerment
  • Leaving a child in the car If you leave a child under 7 alone in a vehicle for more than five minutes, it is an offense punishable by Texas law, and the court could prosecute you for placing your child at unreasonable risk. Allowing young children to sit in a locked car with closed windows in the summer heat could be considered endangerment, because the children’s health and/or lives could be compromised. Every year, hundreds of parents are arrested for child endangerment for failing to take their children out of a vehicle. To most jurors, leaving a child in an unattended car would be considered an unreasonable risk that puts the child in harm’s way.

Any act that has the potential to cause physical or mental impairment, bodily harm, or risk of death to a child is punishable under Texas law. Whether the behavior is negligent, reckless, or intentional, it is considered criminal.

Child Endangerment Laws Involving Drugs

Although Texas is slowly relaxing its laws regarding marijuana use, Texas remains one of the few states where marijuana is illegal. That means that there are some laws surrounding marijuana use that carry some significant penalties.

For example, while smoking or possessing marijuana or THC oil may not seem like a big deal on its own, smoking in front of your children or allowing them access to marijuana or THC gummies or THC oil absolutely can carry serious consequences.

For example, a Texas man was convicted of child endangerment for smoking marijuana in front of a minor and failing to take that child to a medical professional. Another example, a Fort Worth man was charged with child endangerment when he had THC gummies that he kept at his bedside and his 5-year-old child found them and ate a handful of them.

Child endangerment is a broad charge because it covers any way someone may purposefully or negligently put a child in danger.

Remember, as we mentioned earlier in this article, any act that a person “intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence, by act or omission, engages in conduct that places a child younger than 15 years in imminent danger of death, bodily injury, or physical or mental impairment” is endangerment.

The Inclusion of Negligence

The inclusion of negligence is important. Legally, this means that it does not need to be your intent to endanger a child to be convicted of this crime. Instead, you just need to be shown to have placed a child under the age of 15 in danger.

The Exception: Surrendering Custody

The only time when any of the above is not child endangerment is when the person who commits the offense voluntarily delivers the child to “a designated emergency infant care provider.” This specifically gives people exemptions for surrendering custody of very young children safely.

As a result, it is not an exemption that applies to anyone who may smoke marijuana in front of a child.

Drugs and Child Endangerment

The Texas child endangerment laws specifically state that using any level 1 drug in front of or in the presence of a child is considered endangerment. This includes marijuana, THC oil, Methamphetamine, Heroin, Cocaine and other controlled substances.

State Jail Felony Charges

Anyone who uses marijuana in front of a child, their own, or someone else’s child, is in violation of Texas child endangerment laws. Endangerment through drug exposure is considered a state jail felony. This carries penalties between six months and two years in jail, along with a potential fine of up to $10,000.

2nd Degree Felony Charges

If the child is over the age of fifteen, then the crime is no longer child endangerment. It is more likely to be considered delivering marijuana to a minor, which is considered a 2nd Degree Felony charge. This can lead to up to 20 years in prison and fines up to $10,000.

Child Endangerment Laws Involving Guns

Another common example of child endangerment is when a parent fails to secure firearms around a child.

Every year, nearly 1,300 children die from guns and many more are seriously injured. Accidental gunshot cases by children are a prime example of how someone can be charged with child endangerment in Texas.

Texas’ Laws on Child Abandonment

When Examining Texas laws on Child Abandonment, two primary situations arise: Children being left at home alone and Children being left in a vehicle unattended.

Deciding When Your Texas Child Is Old Enough to Be Home Alone

It’s a rite of passage most parents look forward to: When their child finally reaches an age where they can be left at home without supervision. Still, it’s the duty of every parent to ensure their child is safe. Failing to do so can lead to criminal charges, especially if you leave a child home alone who shouldn’t be. So how do you know when your child is old enough to be home alone?

When Is a Child Old Enough To Be Alone in Texas?

In Texas, the age a child can be left at home without supervision isn’t dictated by the law. Instead, there are factors that parents should consider, outlined by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

Key Indicators a Child Can Safely Stay Home Alone

These indicators will let you know when your child has reached an appropriate point in their development to be left unsupervised for a period of time:

  • How emotionally mature your child has become
  • How capable your child is to remain safe
  • If the home is safe for the child to be left unsupervised
  • If your child has the capability to respond to emergencies such as illness, fire, or weather
  • The number of children that will be left unsupervised in the home
  • If your child has any physical, medical, or mental disabilities
  • If your child knows where they are and could report their address if needed
  • How long they may be left alone for
  • If they can contact you or other responsible adults if necessary

Leaving your child home alone when they’re not capable of caring for themselves can result in child abandonment or endangerment charges.

Even though Texas does not have any laws regarding the age you can leave a child at home, child abandonment is taken very seriously in the state. If something happens to your child when you leave them alone at home, then you can be charged.

Child Abandonment and Neglect

Under the Texas Penal Code, you abandon a child whenever you leave them without necessary and reasonable care. The law also defines neglect as:

  • Leaving a child in a position in which they could potentially be exposed to the risk of mental or physical harm
  • Placing a child in, or failing to remove them from, a dangerous situation
  • Failing to provide the necessary clothing, shelter, or food to the child
  • Failing to seek medical care for a child so that their health is put at substantial risk

When Parents Can Face Texas Criminal Charges

You can be charged with child abandonment or endangerment under Texas law if you intentionally leave a child under age 15 in circumstances that expose them to risk or harm.

You can also be charged with abandonment or endangerment if you recklessly, intentionally, through criminal negligence, or knowingly engage in conduct that puts a child at risk of bodily injury, death, or mental or physical impairment.

If I Leave My Child in a Car, Can I Get Charged with Child Abandonment in Texas?

No one ever thinks it will happen to them – that they’ll leave their child in a hot car. Emerging studies say it happens more than you may wish to think about, though.

In fact, Texas leads the nation in the bleak statistic of children dying in hot cars. According to the National Highway Transportation Department, 52 children died in hot cars in 2018.

When a child is left in a hot car in Texas, even if unintentionally, a person can be charged with child abandonment if no harm is done to the child or charged with child endangerment if the child is injured or dies.

Child Endangerment is Somewhat Subjective

The laws surrounding child abandonment are meant to protect children under the age of 15 from negligence or recklessness that puts in them in danger.

For example, in Texas, you cannot leave a child at home without reasonable care provided – reasonable being what any average adult would consider adequate care.

Leaving your 13-year-old at home for an hour while you go shopping is likely considered reasonable but leaving a four-year-old at home for the same reason and the same amount of time would not be. Additionally, a behavior that has the potential to cause bodily harm to a child, risk of death, or mental duress is a crime in Texas.

It doesn’t matter if the actions are taken on purpose if they’re reckless, or because of negligence. They are all treated the same in the eyes of the law.

The Penalties for Child Abandonment Depend on the Crime in Texas

If you leave a child unsupervised in a vehicle, you can be charged with a Class C misdemeanor.

When a child is placed in imminent danger, that is a second-degree felony. Penalties can be anywhere from two to 20 years in jail and a fine up to $10,000, depending on the past criminal history and the nature of the crime.

If you do not want to face those penalties, even if it’s by mistake, then take precautions with your children. This is especially true when it comes to leaving them in hot vehicles. If you do slip up, and find yourself facing charges such as these, then you need an experienced Texas criminal defense attorney in your corner.

Are there any gray area child endangerment or abandonment cases? Any instances where police may be quick to pursue a charge when they should not?

Yes. The most common area where innocent people are charged is in the area of child abandonment.

What if a mother is out on a fall day and needs to return a library book to the library and does not want to unstrap all the kids from their child seats? What if she just locks the door and cracks the windows and runs in to the library to return the book? She was planning to return to her car in mere moments but a police officer pulls up and sees the children in the car alone?

Is this abandonment? To the police officer, most likely yes. To the mother, she was never planning on leaving her children more than a few seconds and was on her way back to the car when the police arrived.

As you can see, police can jump to conclusions and make a decision to arrest you for child abandonment even under innocent circumstances.

Any similar acts could result in prosecution. Note that a child does not need to experience injury for a charge to apply. Simply placing the child in an unreasonably dangerous or unhealthy situation is enough to constitute a child endangerment charge.

Penalties for Child Endangerment in Texas

Penalties for Child Endangerment in Texas

 

If a child is left unsupervised in a vehicle, the penalty is a Class C misdemeanor.

A DWI arrest with a child passenger is a state jail felony. You can face up to two years in state jail, a fine of up to $10,000, and loss of your driver’s license for 180 days.

If an individual abandoned a child under 15 years old with the intent of returning, the penalty is a state jail felony. This can result in up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $10,000.

If an individual abandoned the child with no intent of returning, the penalty is a third degree felony. The penalties include a prison sentence of two to 10 years and a fine of up to $10,000.

If the abandonment places the child in imminent danger, the penalty is a second degree felony. This requires a prison sentence of two to 20 years and a fine of up to $10,000.

If an individual commits child endangerment with criminal negligence, intent, knowledge, or recklessness, and the child is placed in imminent danger, a state jail felony applies. Any situations involving controlled substance possession, manufacture, or ingestion fall in this category.

Penalties for Child Endangerment in Texas

If a child is left unsupervised in a vehicle, the penalty is a Class C misdemeanor.

A DWI arrest with a child passenger is a state jail felony. You can face up to two years in state jail, a fine of up to $10,000, and loss of your driver’s license for 180 days.

If an individual abandoned a child under 15 years old with the intent of returning, the penalty is a state jail felony. This can result in up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $10,000.

If an individual abandoned the child with no intent of returning, the penalty is a third-degree felony. The penalties include a prison sentence of two to 10 years and a fine of up to $10,000.

If the abandonment places the child in imminent danger, the penalty is a second-degree felony. This requires a prison sentence of two to 20 years and a fine of up to $10,000.

If an individual commits child endangerment with criminal negligence, intent, knowledge, or recklessness, and the child is placed in imminent danger, a state jail felony applies. Any situations involving controlled substance possession, manufacture, or ingestion fall in this category.

Defending against Texas Child Endangerment Charges

Certain defenses apply in specific situations. A coach or an organized sports event cannot be charged with child endangerment as long as safety equipment and proper procedures are used. Also, if an individual left an infant with emergency medical care providers, a charge will not apply.

Additionally, because child endangerment and child abandonment are usually designated as felony level offenses in Texas, it is important that your criminal lawyer work to gather evidence to present to the grand jury.

In Texas, every felony must be presented to a grand jury. The grand jury could potentially lower the charge to a misdemeanor or No Bill the case, the equivalent of a dismissal of your criminal charge.

There may be evidence that was not gathered at the time of the arrest that your criminal attorney could pursue to present to the grand jury to clear your name.

Defending against Fort Worth Texas Child Endangerment Charges

It’s important to contact a knowledgeable Texas criminal attorney as soon as charges are filed against you. You may face penalties in addition to fines and incarceration, including loss of child custody. Call today for a free case review.

About the Author: After getting his Juris Doctor from the University of Houston Law Center, Jeff Hampton began practicing criminal law in Texas in 2005.

Before becoming a defense attorney, he worked as a prosecutor for the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office – experience he uses to anticipate and cast doubt on the arguments that will be used against his clients.

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