Alabama has two criminal child abuse laws.
The first of these is designed to punish parents, stepparents, guardians or other “responsible persons” (as defined by Alabama law) from willfully torturing, abusing, cruelly beating or otherwise willfully maltreating any child or children under the age of 18.
A person who is convicted is guilty of a class C felony and subject to up to 10 years in prison.
Aggravated Child Abuse
The second, and more serious, law covers aggravated child abuse. This law punishes people who have previously been convicted of child abuse or who, violate a court order concerning the children or cause serious physical injury to a child.
Aggravated child abuse is a class B felony subjecting a guilty party to up to 20 years in prison.
Defending and Resolving Child Abuse and Aggravated Child Abuse accusations in Alabama
Alabama child abuse cases often fall into distinct categories:
A Parent Goes Too Far
In some instances the accused person simply goes too far in punishing a child. This doesn’t necessarily mean that a parent is a “bad parent” but it may mean that they lacked proper education as to proper parenting.
Alabama law recognizes a parent or guardian may choose to use physical discipline in disciplining a child but at what point does physical discipline of a child rise to child abuse?
If it’s a case of “bad parenting” the case can sometimes be resolved without imprisonment or even a conviction. Depending on the severity and the nature of what happened, an agreement can sometimes be reached where the accused will voluntarily attend parenting classes; upon successful completion of these classes the prosecutor may agree to dismiss the charges. Of course, every case is evaluated under its own facts; not all cases can be resolved in this manner.
The Wrongly Accused
Sometimes an individual is wrongly accused of child abuse.
There are a number of examples and reasons this may occur. For example in one case, a child was severely injured when the child’s caretaker tried to give them a bath in scalding bathwater. In this case the water heater was defective and, unknown to the child’s caretaker, the bathwater was extraordinarily hot. While this person made a terrible mistake, they were not guilty of child abuse.
In other instances a childhood illnesses can mimic the signs of abuse. A wide variety of medical conditions can cause injuries bruises and sometimes even easily broken bones that can be mistaken for child abuse.
Accidents also account for a number of false accusations. Since children, particularly very young children, are not able to express or explain how injuries have occurred, sometimes adults can find themselves wrongly accused.
Of course some children are legitimately abused. Unfortunately both because of our protective nature towards children and sometimes due to poor police work or bad family dynamics, the wrong party may be charged.
No matter what the circumstances are, if someone is accused of child abuse they should immediately speak with an attorney. Ideally this would be prior to any conversation with law enforcement or anyone else.