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State Must Prove Physical Injury to Convict For Child Abuse in Florida

In Florida, the crime of child abuse is committed when a person intentionally causes physical or mental injury to a child or does something that could reasonably be expected to cause a physical or mental injury to a child. Assuming the child is not seriously injured, child abuse is a serious third degree felony that carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison in Florida. Police and prosecutors take these crimes very seriously, as one might expect when children victims are involved.

However, there is a question as to what exactly constitutes the crime of child abuse in Florida. Some police will make arrests and some prosecutors will file criminal charges for conduct that was considered normal, or even encouraged, not too many years ago. Cases in Florida have attempted to clarify what conduct can be considered criminal abuse of a child. In Florida, an actual injury is required for the conduct to be criminal. This means something more than just causing discomfort to the child. It would seem to require actual objective evidence of any injury such as a sprain, broken bone, burn, puncture of the skin or at least a bruise. If a person causes some harm to a child but none of those objective findings are present, it is likely that the crime of child abuse was not committed, and any charges for child abuse should be thrown out.

The lesser third degree felony child abuse charge also contemplates a crime where a person causes a mental injury to the child. In such a case, the state would likely have to establish some sort of impairment to the child’s ability to function mentally that was caused by the act of child abuse and was not previously present.

There is a more serious crime of child abuse where this issue is not a factor. If a person tortures a child or intentionally causes great bodily harm, disability or disfigurement to a child, it is aggravated child abuse. This is a first degree felony which is normally punishable by up to 30 years in prison.