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When Does Discipline Become Abuse?

Posted on July 21, 2021 in Domestic Violence

Many examples of child abuse are obvious, such as sexual abuse. The line between discipline and child abuse, however, can sometimes be blurry – especially as what is child abuse in one state may not be considered this crime in another state. The language of the law is confusing and often only fully understood by a legal professional. If you have been accused of abusing a child in Arizona, contact a child abuse defense lawyer in Phoenix without delay.

What Is Arizona’s Definition of Child Abuse?

Arizona Revised Statutes Section 13-3623 holds the state’s official definition of the crime of child or vulnerable adult abuse. The law states that abuse when used in reference to a child can mean the intentional infliction of physical harm, injury caused by criminal negligence, unlawful imprisonment, and sexual abuse or assault. According to state law, there are three main types of actions that can constitute child abuse:

  • Causing a child to suffer physical injury.
  • Allowing the child’s health to be injured while the child is in the person’s custody or care.
  • Permitting a child to be in a situation where his or her health will be endangered.

A physical injury can describe any impairment to the child’s physical condition, including broken bones, bruising, bleeding, malnutrition or dehydration, soft-tissue injuries, organ damage, and failure to thrive. If an action is performed under circumstances that are likely to produce death or serious physical injury, this crime is classified in the following ways:

  • A class 4 felony if done with criminal negligence.
  • A class 3 felony if done recklessly.
  • A class 2 felony if done intentionally or knowingly to a child under 15 years of age.

These charges are reduced to class 6, 5 and 4 felonies, respectively, if the act of child abuse was under circumstances that were not likely to produce death or serious physical injury. The law goes on to state that the definition of child abuse includes leaving a child in a vehicle or structure where volatile, toxic or flammable chemicals are found or where equipment to manufacture a dangerous drug is found.

What Must Be Proven in a Child Abuse Case?

One of the main differences between disciplining and abusing a child is an injury being inflicted. If the child’s health and physical condition were never injured or endangered while being disciplined, the act most likely will not meet the definition of child abuse. Another difference is intent. To prove a child abuse case in Arizona, the prosecution generally must show that a parent, teacher or another defendant had the intent to do harm or make the youth suffer.

Even if a person did not intend to harm a child, however, he or she could still face penalties for the crime of child abuse for inflicting serious injuries. If, for example, a parent disciplining a child accidentally used too much force and caused bruising or a soft-tissue injury, the state may charge the parent for the physical and emotional trauma caused, even if the parent never meant to harm the child. Crossing the line in this way could result in a child abuse charge in Arizona.

What to Do if You Are Being Accused of Child Abuse

If someone is accusing you of child abuse, consult with a criminal defense lawyer in Phoenix immediately for assistance. Hiring a lawyer from the very beginning of your case can help you build the strongest possible defense. Your attorney can begin work on your case right away by speaking to witnesses, hiring qualified experts and gathering evidence to help you create a defense. If your actions did not meet Arizona’s definition of child abuse, for example, your attorney can argue that no crime was committed.

For more information about a child abuse allegation, contact AZ Defenders for a free and confidential case evaluation.