In Florida, the crime of child neglect is committed when a person described under the law as a caregiver fails to provide care or supervision to a child that is necessary to maintain the child’s health or to protect a child from abuse or neglect. Child neglect is a felony, and the seriousness of the charge is largely based on the extent of the injury to the child, if any. However, even if the child is not injured, child neglect is still a felony charge in Florida.
In a recent child neglect case near Jacksonville, Florida, the defendant was babysitting his girlfriend’s children. Under these circumstances, the defendant is likely to be considered a caregiver under Florida law. While the mother was away, her youngest child apparently fell out of his crib and lay on the floor unresponsive. The defendant told the oldest child to call the mother rather than 911. The mother came home, and she called 911. The child went to the hospital with serious injuries. The police arrested the defendant for child abuse claiming that the defendant neglected the injured child by having the older child call her mother rather than 911.
One problem with a child neglect charge is the more injured the child is and the younger the child is, the angrier police, prosecutors and jurors get and the more they may want to hold someone accountable. This can result in police, prosecutors and/or jurors making decisions based on emotion rather than the facts and the law. The law says that negligence in this context must be a gross and flagrant failure to act reasonably with regard to others. The defendant must have an utter disregard for the safety of the child. Child neglect cannot merely be a mistake or a bad decision on the part of the defendant that either places a child at risk or seriously injures a child.
In this case, the child neglect charge was ultimately thrown out by the judge. while the defendant may not have made the best decision, the state cannot prove that he had a complete disregard for the safety of the child. Had the defendant just ignored the small child laying on the ground unresponsive, that likely would have been child neglect. However, telling the older child to call the mother first, and 911 eventually, is not a flagrant act that disregarded the child’s health. Again, these cases are susceptible to rash and emotional decisions on the part of the state to arrest defendants and charge them with felonies. However, the law is clear that the state must prove a flagrant disregard for the child’s safety, and proving that the child was seriously injured is not the same thing. If the state cannot prove the case based on the defendant’s conduct, or lack of conduct, a child neglect charge should not proceed.