In Florida, there is a criminal statute that addresses the neglect of a child. The statute is problematic because it is broadly written. The effect is that police officers have very broad discretion to arrest a person for child neglect. And prosecutors similarly have wide discretion when deciding whether to file charges. As a result, a police officer’s opinion, normally based on very limited information, about how a parent should raise or deal with a child takes precedence over the parent in response to situations that may or may not involve actual negligence.
The Florida statute does not just apply to parents. Any caregiver who neglects a child can be charged with child neglect in Florida. Child neglect is a serious felony charge. It becomes more serious if the child is injured as a result of some incident relating to the alleged neglect. If there is no injury, child neglect is still a third degree felony. It is a serious charge for a crime that may be reasonable parental conduct that a police officer just disagrees with.
For example, we have handled several cases where a parent decides a child or children are old enough to be left alone at home for a period of time. Something happens, maybe there’s a knock at the door or the kid breaks something and cannot reach the parents, the kid panics and ultimately the police respond to the home. If whichever police officer responds to this situation decides the kid should not have been left alone, not knowing the history and circumstances of the kid and the parents, then the parents will get arrested for a serious felony charge. And we find that some police officers do not like responding to situations and coming away empty handed. The old- I will arrest these people and let the lawyers and the judge figure it out approach. This is not an uncommon scenario.