As children are still learning about the world and what actions might harm them, it's up to adults to ensure that they aren't exposed to dangerous situations that put their health and safety at risk. However, not all people behave in ways that keep children out of harm's way. Some might even engage in conduct that can result in injury or death to a child.
Iowa law prohibits people from doing things that may harm a child. The child endangerment statute applies to parents, guardians, and people with custody or control of a child. A person with custody or control is anyone who has agreed to supervise the child or who drives a car in which a child is present.
Any person who violates the law can be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony. The level of offense and potential penalties depend on the nature of the incident and the harm the child sustains.
Causing Death to a Child
A court may impose the most severe penalties for child endangerment when the conduct results in the child's death. For instance, say a mother has a couple of drinks before driving home with their 5-year-old daughter. The police see her swerving in the road and attempt to pull her over on suspicion of DUI. Rather than stopping, the mom speeds up and crashes into a tree. The daughter is killed in the accident.
The mother may be charged with class "B" felony child endangerment. A conviction may result in confinement for up to 50 years. This penalty is double the term that's normally imposed for a class "B" felony (generally, the maximum term of imprisonment is 25 years).
Causing Serious Injury to a Child
Some actions (or inactions) may not cause a child's death. Still, they are dangerous nonetheless and may result in serious injury. Under Iowa law, serious injury is that which puts a person at substantial risk of death or results in serious disfigurement or the loss of the use of a body part. For instance, using a dangerous instrument on a child may lead to impairment of a limb, or, depending on where the child was struck, a life-threatening injury.
An act that causes serious injury to a child is a class "C" felony. If the defendant is convicted, a court can sentence them to no more than 10 years in prison and/or fine them up to $10,000.
Causing Bodily Injury to a Child
Hitting a child might not cause serious harm, but it could cause bodily injury, such as physical pain or illness. For example, a parent or guardian might use unreasonable force and strike a child with their open hand or a belt. This can result in bruises or cuts that may not put the child at risk of death but causes them pain nonetheless.
Child endangerment resulting in bodily injury is a class "D" felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison and/or up to $7,500 in fines.
Other Types of Child Endangerment
Not all actions or inactions involving a child will result in physical injury or death. However, engaging in them may still put the child at risk. For example, if a parent has a few alcoholic drinks and passes out in their car with their child present, they have not caused physical harm, but they have endangered the child's safety.
In such circumstances, the offense is an aggravated misdemeanor. At this level, the penalties include a jail term not to exceed 2 years and/or a fine of no more than $6,250.
Are you facing felony or misdemeanor charges in Des Moines? Schedule a free consultation with Branstad & Olson to learn about your legal options. Call (515) 329-3100 or submit an online contact form today.