ARS 13-3623 is the Arizona statute that defines the crime of child abuse. People commit this offense if, under certain circumstances, they cause a child to suffer physical injury, allow a child to be injured, or allow a child to be placed in a situation that endangers the child’s health or well-being. A violation of this law can lead to a Class 2 felony charge punishable by up to 10 years in state prison.
The language of ARS 13-3623 states that, for a conviction under this law, a prosecutor must prove that a defendant committed child abuse and acted either:
- intentionally or knowingly,
- recklessly, or
- with criminal negligence.
- allowing a child to stay in a building in which people are using flammable chemicals to manufacture a dangerous drug.
- knowingly hitting a child where the act causes serious physical injury.
- leaving a child in a car on a hot day with the windows rolled up.
People accused of child abuse can challenge the accusation with a legal defense. A few common defenses include the parties showing that:
- they were acting within their legal rights to discipline the child,
- they were falsely accused, and/or
- a child was injured by something other than abuse.
A Class 2 felony is the most severe charge and is punishable by custody in state prison for up to 10 years.
In this article, our Phoenix Arizona criminal defense attorneys will discuss what the law is under this statute, defenses available if charged, the penalties for a conviction, and related crimes.
1.How does Arizona law define “child abuse”?
Under Arizona law, people are guilty of child abuse if they, under certain circumstances, do any of the following:
- cause a child to suffer physical injury,
- allow a child to be injured, or
- allow a child to be placed in a situation that endangers the child’s health or well-being.i
To secure a conviction under this law, a prosecutor has to show that the defendant committed child abuse and he/she did so either:
- intentionally or knowingly,
- recklessly, or
- with criminal negligence.ii
A few definitions here are helpful:
- “knowingly” means that a person is aware or believes that their conduct is of a nature or that a particular circumstance exists,iii
- “recklessly” means that a person commits an act although aware of, and in grossly conscious disregard to, a substantial and unjustifiable risk of harm to some person,ivand
- “criminal negligence” is a when a person acts while failing to perceive that the act may result in a substantial and unjustifiable risk of harm.v
For purposes of this law, a “child” means a person who is under the age of 18.vi
Note that a person is guilty of child abuse even if he/she is not the parent or guardian of the “victim.”vii
2. Are there defenses to child abuse charges under ARS 13-3623?
Criminal defense lawyers draw upon several legal strategies to defend against charges brought under this statute. A few common ones include the attorneys showing that:
- the defendant was lawfully disciplining his/her child.
- the defendant was falsely accused.
- a child was injured by something else other than abuse.
2.1 Lawfully disciplining a child
Parents have the right to discipline their children using “corporal punishment.” They can even use an object (such as a belt or paddle) as long as the discipline was reasonably necessary and appropriate to maintain discipline.viii
2.2 Falsely accused
Unfortunately, people get falsely accused of this crime all of the time. For instance, a child may give a false accusation to gain attention or because they want to get placed out of their home. Further, one parent may falsely accuse another parent in order to win a custody dispute. A defense, then, is for accused people to show that they were unjustly blamed.
2.3 Other cause of injury
Children often get hurt or become endangered in a variety of different ways (for example, through playing or acting out of curiosity). Therefore, defendants can try to establish their innocence by showing that the “victim” was injured by something other than abuse.
3. What are the penalties?
The penalties for child abuse will depend on the specific facts of a case.
If a defendant commits child abuse under circumstances likely to cause death or serious injury to the child, then the crime is charged as either a:
- Class 2 felony, if the defendant acted intentionally or knowingly (a Class 2 felony is punishable by up to 10 years in prison),
- Class 3 felony, if the defendant acted recklessly (a Class 3 felony is punishable by almost four years in prison), or
- Class 4 felony, if the defendant acted with criminal negligence (a Class 4 felony is punishable by almost three years in prison).
If a defendant commits child abuse under circumstances other than those likely to produce death or serious injury, then the crime is charged as either a:
- Class 4 felony, if the defendant acted intentionally or knowingly,
- Class 5 felony, if the defendant acted recklessly (a Class 5 felony is punishable by up to a year-and-a-half in prison), or
- Class 6 felony, if the defendant acted with criminal negligence (a Class 6 felony is punishable by one year in prison).
4. How can people report instances of child abuse?
People can always report instances of abuse, or make abuse referrals, to a peace officer or a law enforcement agent.
Reports of child abuse can also be made to the Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS) or by calling the statewide child abuse hotline phone number at 1-888-sos-child. People can call this number in instances of child abuse, child maltreatment, and/or child neglect.ix
Note that Prevent Child Abuse Arizona is an Arizona organization dedicated to promoting child abuse prevention.x
Note, too, that if a child abuse case gets started in the Arizona court system, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) is an organization that helps advocate for a child’s needs.xi
5. Are there related offenses?
There are three crimes related to child abuse. These are:
- endangerment – ARS 13-1201,
- custodial interference – ARS 13-1302, and
- assault – 13-1203.
5.1 Endangerment – ARS 13-1201
Per ARS 13-1201, endangerment is the offense where people recklessly put someone at risk of imminent death or physical injury.
Depending on the facts of a child abuse case, it is possible for a defendant to face charges of both:
- child abuse, and
5.2 Custodial interference – ARS 13-1302
Per ARS 13-1302, custodial interference is the offense where people commit an act in relation to a child and do so without legal authority. Some prohibited acts under this statute include:
- taking a child from another’s lawful custody, and
- denying a parent access to their child.
Unlike with child abuse, a person does not have to act with a specific criminal state of mind to be guilty of custodial interference.
5.3 Assault – 13-1203
Per ARS 13-1203, assault is the crime where people intentionally or recklessly cause physical injury to someone, intentionally place another person in fear of physical injury, or knowingly touch someone with the intent to injure or provoke them.
Unlike with child abuse, assault is a misdemeanor offense in Arizona.
Note that sexual assault is a separate crime set forth under ARS 13-1406.
For additional help…
If you or a loved one is facing a child abuse charge, we invite you to contact our law firm at the Shouse Law Group. Our attorneys provide both a free consultation and legal advice you can trust.
- Arizona Revised Statutes 13-3623A and B.
- See same.
- A.R.S. 13-105(10)(b).
- State ex Rel. Thomas v. Duncan, 216 Ariz. 260 (2007). See also ARS 13-105(10)(c).
- ARS 13-105.
- ARS 13-3623F2.
- Cespedes v. Lee, 243 Ariz. 46 (2017).
- ARS 13-403.
- Note that mandated reporters are required by law, as defined by ARS 13-3620, to report all concerns of child abuse or neglect. To view information regarding the DCS and its pandemic information, please click here. Note also that DCS was formerly known as Child Protective Services (CPS).
- Per the organization’s website, Prevent Child Abuse Arizona is dedicated to strengthening families and protecting children through collaboration, education, and advocacy. PCA Arizona provides training, parenting education and prevention services to families, foster parents, child welfare professionals, social service providers, law enforcement, court personnel, and the public (including caregivers and health care providers).
- If a court case is initiated and a child abuse incident gets substantiated, the child victim may be placed in foster care.