Oklahoma has one of the highest rates of child abuse in the nation. Between newsworthy problems with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services and statistics that show that confirmed cases of abuse in the state have grown over the last three years, Oklahoma has a growing reputation for being a bad place for kids. In order to combat this image, law enforcement and prosecutors zealously pursue cases of suspected abuse and neglect and prosecute them aggressively.
Children are vulnerable, and in many cases, defenseless against abuse. While discipline is appropriate, abuse is not. However, well-meaning individuals may misinterpret legitimate discipline, resulting in a DHS or criminal investigation of a parent. A tired and frustrated parent without adequate support may act rashly in a tense or emotional situation. A vindictive parent may make false accusations of abuse in an attempt to gain an advantage over the other parent in a custody dispute. Regardless of the reason for your investigation or charge, you need immediate legal counsel from a lawyer equipped to handle tough cases. If you are convicted, you face not only criminal penalties including jail or prison, but also the destruction of your family and the loss of your children.
Oklahoma Child Abuse and Neglect Laws
State law prohibits child abuse or neglect as defined by 10A O.S. § 1-1-105 of the Oklahoma Children and Juvenile Code. Under this code, abuse is defined as "harm or threatened harm or failure to protect from harm or threatened harm to the health, safety, or welfare of a child by a person responsible for the child's health, safety, or welfare, including but not limited to nonaccidental physical or mental injury, sexual abuse, or sexual exploitation." The definition specifically excludes "ordinary force as a means of discipline, including, but not limited to, spanking, switching, or paddling." This means that, typically, spanking is not considered abuse; however, if the force used in spanking or paddling is deemed excessive or extraordinary, this type of discipline may be charged as abuse.
The Children's Code defines neglect as follows:
- Failure to provide adequate nurturing or affection; food, clothing, shelter, sanitation, hygiene, or education; medical, dental, or behavioral health care; supervision or appropriate caretakers; or care for the special needs of physically or mentally disabled children
- Failure to protect a child from exposure to the use, sale, possession, or manufacture of illegal drugs; illegal activities; sexual acts or sexually explicit materials
Child abuse and neglect are criminalized and penalized under 21 O.S. § 843.5 of the state statutes. It is important to note that enabling either of these crimes is punishable in the same measure as actively abusing or neglecting a child. This means that if a parent allows another person to abuse his or her child, or if he or she leaves the child with a caregiver whom the parent should have reasonably known to be a danger to the child, he or she faces the exact same penalties as the abuser.
Engaging in or enabling child abuse, child sexual abuse, or child neglect is a felony punishable by a maximum of life in prison.
Shaken Baby Syndrome
When a child is taken to a hospital with subdural hematoma and/or retinal hemorrhaging, police and medical caregivers automatically suspect Shaken Baby Syndrome, unless a clear cause—such as an automobile accident—is evident. If the caregiver cannot explain the injuries, or if the explanation does not seem to match the severity of the injuries, the parent or caregiver will likely be charged with child abuse.
Shaken Baby Syndrome is a condition in which an infant's brain is damaged through violent shaking. This type of traumatic brain injury can lead to permanent physical or mental disability or death. If a child dies from abuse, the defendant is not charged with abuse, but rather first degree murder.
Shaken Baby Syndrome typically occurs when frustration and exhaustion get the better of a parent who is unable to cope with sleep deprivation coupled with seemingly unending cries from an infant. Medical caregivers and child safety agencies offer help to struggling new parents, but unless a parent knows where to find these resources or has the means to access them, they may not provide any protection for babies or parents.
If you have been accused of abusing your child by shaking him or her, it is important to know that legal defense is available to you. There are medical experts who dispute the existence of "Shaken Baby Syndrome," saying that it is impossible to shake a baby with enough force to cause the same injuries as those consistent with a 2-3 story fall or an automobile accident at 35 miles per hour in which the victim is unrestrained. Furthermore, it was once believed that injuries from Shaken Baby Syndrome would become symptomatic within two hours of the injury. However, medical experts have since seen that a victim of a serious head injury can be lucid for quite some time before he or she exhibits symptoms or collapses from the injury. This span of time between the infliction of the injury and the onset of symptoms can lead to significant questions about when the injury occurred and who or what is responsible for causing the injury.
Reporting Suspected Child Abuse
In Oklahoma, reporting suspected child abuse is a legal responsibility, not just an ethical responsibility. While many people know that teachers and physicians are required to report suspected abuse, Oklahoma law states:
Every person having reason to believe that a child under the age of eighteen (18) years is a victim of abuse or neglect shall report the matter promptly to the Department of Human Services. Reports shall be made to the hotline provided for in subsection A of this section. Any allegation of abuse or neglect reported in any manner to a county office shall immediately be referred to the hotline by the Department (Title 10A, Section 1-2-101B).
The law continues that failure to report child abuse is a crime: Any person who knowingly and willfully fails to promptly report suspected child abuse or neglect or who interferes with the prompt reporting of suspected child abuse or neglect may be reported to local law enforcement for criminal investigation and, upon conviction thereof, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.
These laws are intended for the protection of Oklahoma's children. The law does not require a person who suspects a child is being abused to have proof or factual evidence of abuse before reporting it. Adults are required to report suspected abuse. Because of this, well-meaning but misguided people may report suspected child abuse after misunderstanding a child's statements or making assumptions about minor injuries.
Defense Representation in Oklahoma
If you are wrongfully accused of domestic violence by an overprotective neighbor, teacher, or other adult in your child's life, you need swift legal representation to protect your family and exercise damage control. The domestic abuse defense lawyers at Phillips & Associates are backed by a successful record that includes numerous domestic violence dismissals. Contact us today to find out how we can help you fight your criminal charge.
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