The Nevada crime of child abuse occurs when someone knowingly causes physical or mental harm to a child. It is also a form of child abuse to neglect children by depriving them of necessities or to endanger children by putting them in a hazardous situation.
The penalties for a child abuse conviction in Nevada vary depending on the circumstances of the alleged abuse. The most severe incidents can result in years or even decades in prison.
Nevada courts realize that it's common for people to be falsely accused of child abuse. Common defenses to child abuse charges include that the child had an accident or the defendant acted out of self-defense. Or perhaps the child fabricated the abuse accusation.
This article provides a legal summary of the Nevada offense of "child abuse, neglect and endangerment." Continue reading to learn more about the definition, defenses, and penalties.
Definition of Child Abuse in Nevada
The legal definition of "child abuse" in Nevada is willfully causing or permitting a child under eighteen to undergo unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering. Specifically, child abuse comprises physical harm, mental harm, neglect, sexual abuse, or endangerment:
Physical abuse comprises acts of battery such as hitting, burning, or throwing objects at a child. Subjecting an infant to "shaken baby syndrome" is also considered child abuse. But disciplinary punishments such as spanking, a smack, or sending a child to his/her room without dinner are legal as long as they are not excessive. (Learn more about Shaken Baby Syndrome crimes in Nevada.)
If a child dies from abuse, the defendant may then face Nevada homicide charges. Double jeopardy laws prohibit a defendant from being convicted of both child abuse and the Nevada crime of murder if the child abuse was the immediate cause of the death.
Note that it is not considered child abuse for a pregnant mother to ingest illegal substances which then transfer to the baby through the umbilical cord.
Emotional abuse in Nevada is defined as behavior that harms a child's emotional, psychological, or intellectual capacity to the point where it impairs his/her normal range of performance. Goodsprings criminal defense attorney Michael Becker gives an example:
Jack is a cult member in Henderson who brainwashes his son to believe that all non-cult members are evil and should be beaten. If caught, Jack could be booked at the Henderson Detention Center for emotional abuse for brainwashing his son with destructive and violent ideological believes.
Other forms of emotional abuse include constantly telling a child that he/she is worthless or not permitting him to attend school and learn. Since emotional abuse is difficult to measure and identify, it is harder to prove than physical abuse.
Sexual abuse & exploitation
The Nevada crime of child sexual abuse and exploitation may comprise any of the following offenses:
- the Nevada crime of rape (NRS 200.366),
- the Nevada crime of incest (NRS 201.180),
- the Nevada crime of lewdness with a child under fourteen (NRS 201.230),
- the Nevada crime of open and gross lewdness (NRS 201.210),
- the Nevada crime of statutory rape (NRS 200.364),
- using a child for the Nevada crime of prostitution (NRS 201.354),
- the Nevada crime of child pornography, (NRS 200.710 & NRS 200.720) or
- female genital mutilation
Note that double jeopardy laws prohibit a defendant from being convicted of both child abuse and any of the above offenses for the same incident.
Child neglect occurs when a person who's responsible for a child's welfare has either abandoned that child or deprived him/her of proper supervision, food, protection, medical care or other necessities. Laughlin criminal defense
attorney Neil Shouse provides an illustration:
Sam's daughter falls down the stairs headfirst in their North Las Vegas home. For hours the daughter complains of a worsening headache and dizziness, but Sam does nothing about it. The next day the housekeeper calls an ambulance for the daughter, and doctors later determine she's suffering from a hemorrhage. Sam may then be booked at the North Las Vegas Detention Center for neglecting to seek timely medical care for his daughter.
Note that guardians may legally use nontraditional remedies to treat children as long as Nevada law recognizes it as a suitable alternative and the guardian acts in good faith.
Also note that deaths resulting from child neglect cannot result in homicide charges against the defendant. This is different from deaths resulting from child abuse, which may result in homicide charges.
For information about the "child endangerment" form of child abuse, see our article on the Nevada crime of child endangerment.
Reporting child abuse in Nevada
As with any crime, child abuse allegations can be reported to law enforcement through calling 911 or filing police reports. However many child abuse cases come to the attention of authorities through the government agency Child Protective Services (CPS):
Professionals such as physicians, educators, therapists and clergymen are required to report suspected child abuse cases to CPS. After CPS learns of a possible child abuse incident, it investigates the situation by gathering information about the alleged victims and their families.
If CPS determines that there is no reasonable cause to believe that a child is being abused, the agency will conclude that the report is "unsubstantiated" and take no further action. Otherwise, CPS will notify Nevada police. The police will then organize a plan to arrest the alleged perpetrators and remove the child from harm.
Note that anyone may contact the CPS with tips including anonymous sources. And CPS does not require that the reporter provide proof of the alleged child abuse. The Child Abuse Hotline in Clark County, Nevada may be reached at (702) 399-0081 or DFSHotline@co.clark.nv.us.
Defenses for child abuse in Nevada
The most effective defenses to charges of child abuse in Nevada depend on the specific circumstances of the case. Common strategies for fighting child abuse allegations include the following:
- Accident. Children may get suspicious-looking injuries by innocent mishaps such as falling down stairs, playing sports, or roughhousing with friends. Pure accidents ... even ones where a child is severely injured ... are not crimes as long as the incident was not foreseeable or reasonably preventable.
- False accusations. Sometimes people get falsely accused of child abuse by angry children or vengeful co-parents. Sometimes children may even wound themselves to back up the abuse story. Fortunately medical experts can often determine whether injuries are self-inflicted. And defense attorneys may be able to undermine the accuser's credibility on the witness stand and win an acquittal of the charges.
- Lack of possibility of physical or mental harm. Child abuse charges should not stand if the child didn't sustain or couldn't foreseeably have sustained an injury, illness, unjustifiable pain, cosmetic disfigurement, or psychological, emotional, or mental deficiencies that thwart developmental, academic or social skills. Medical records and medical experts are typically admitted as evidence to ascertain the existence of mental or physical harm.
- Lack of proof. The prosecutor in criminal cases has the burden to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If the prosecutor has insufficient evidence ... or if the defense attorney can show that the prosecutor's evidence lacks credibility ... the charges should be dropped. Typical evidence that comes in for child abuse cases includes 911 calls, CPS reports, and witness testimony.
- Self-defense. Nevada self-defense law allows a person to fight back against someone else with reasonable force as long as the person reasonably believes he/she is about to be injured or killed. Therefore it's perfectly legal for people to try to fend off angry children or teens who turn violent. And expert witnesses may be able to show the court that the child was the aggressor in the incident.
Note that it's not a valid defense that the defendant didn't intend to be "abusive." A well-meaning person who intentionally commits an act that a reasonable person should know is harmful (such as delaying taking a sick child to a doctor) may face child abuse charges.
Penalties for child abuse in Nevada
The punishment for child abuse in Nevada depends on the child's age, the defendant's criminal past, the type of abuse, and whether the child sustained substantial bodily harm in Nevada or substantial mental harm. Another factor is whether the defendant either willfully caused the abuse or knowingly permitted the child to be abused by someone or something else.
If the abuse was "willful" AND the child had substantial bodily or mental harm:
If the child was thirteen or younger and suffered sexual abuse or exploitation, the matter is a category A felony in Nevada This carries a life sentence in Nevada State Prison with parole possibly after 15 years. Otherwise, the matter is a category B felony in Nevada carrying 2 - 20 years imprisonment.
If the abuse was willful AND the child has no substantial bodily or mental harm:
If the defendant had previous convictions for child abuse, the matter is a category B felony in Nevada carrying 2 - 15 years in prison. Otherwise, the sentence is 1 - 6 years.
If the abuse was "permissive" AND the child had substantial bodily or mental harm:
If the child was thirteen or younger and suffered sexual abuse or exploitation, the matter is a category A felony in Nevada. This carries a life sentence with parole possibly after 10 years. Otherwise, the matter is a category B felony in Nevada carrying 2 - 20 years imprisonment.
If the abuse was "permissive" AND the child has no substantial bodily or mental harm:
If the defendant has no previous convictions for child abuse, the matter is a gross misdemeanor in Nevada carrying a $2,000 fine and/or 364 days in jail. Otherwise, the matter is a category C felony in Nevada carrying 1 - 5 years in prison and maybe a $10,000 fine.
Note that defendants convicted of child sexual abuse may have to register with the Nevada Sex Offender Registry. Also note that non-citizens convicted of child abuse may face deportation from the U.S. Read more about criminal defense of immigrants in Nevada.
Arrested for child abuse in Nevada? Call us for help...
If you have been accused of "child abuse, neglect, or endangerment" in Nevada, call our Las Vegas Nevada criminal defense lawyers at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) for a free consultation. We will explore every avenue to get the charges dismissed or reduced. And we were always ready to fight zealously for you at trial.
We represent client throughout Nevada, including Las Vegas, Henderson, Washoe County, Reno, Carson City, Laughlin, Mesquite, Bunkerville, Moapa, Elko, Pahrump, Searchlight and Tonopah.