The State of Maine considers it a crime to put a child in harm’s way. It is a parent or guardian’s legal responsibility to keep a minor child safe. A criminal charge for child endangerment carries with it significant social stigma and a criminal record. No one wants to be called a “bad parent.” The truth is that sometimes a good parent can make a bad choice.
In addition to the social stigma, a conviction for endangering the welfare of a child can have other consequences. If you have a job in education or work with children, a criminal charge for child endangerment can put your job at risk. No matter how you look at it, you do not want a criminal conviction on your record for endangering the welfare of a child in Maine.
If you or someone you know is facing a criminal charge of Endangering the Welfare of a Child in Maine, do not face this alone. The Nielsen Group specializes in Maine Child Endangerment defense. We encourage you to contact The Nielsen Group for a free legal consultation appointment. We are looking forward to hearing your questions and helping you in your case.
Once a parent is charged with endangering the welfare of a child, they are often looking for information on the impact this charge will have and how to go about defending yourself. This article will review what you can anticipate if you are accused of child endangerment in Maine:
- What is the Maine Statute for Endangering the Welfare of a Child?
- How can a criminal defense lawyer help?
- What are the outcomes for Endangering the Welfare of a Child?
If there are any questions that we have not answered on your case involving child endangerment in this article, please feel free to contact us.
Here is a fictional story of how a person can be charged with Endangering the Welfare of a Child in Maine.
Story of Endangering the Welfare of a Child
It was the weekend, and Ralph was looking forward to binge watching sports on TV and drinking a few beers. Ralph’s wife was about to take their son, Richie, to little league. But Ralph’s wife got a call from her work that they needed her to come in. Ralph is going to have to take Richie to little league. Ralph groans, “Why can’t they call someone else into work today? I’ve already had a beer.” Ralph’s wife tells him to get up off the couch or else Richie is going to be late for little league.
Driving his son to little league, Ralph grumbles. Ralph had not planned on driving today. Ralph came to a four-way intersection. He over-turned to the right and took out a corner mailbox, frustrated he kept on going to get to little league practice. Further down the road, an officer pulled Ralph over for speeding. The officer asked where Ralph got the crack in his front windshield. And then the officer mentions that someone from the neighborhood had called to report a damaged mailbox. Smelling the beer on Ralph’s breath, the officer asks if Ralph has had anything to drink. Ralph admitted to one or two, but he is not driving far today. The officer notices Richie in the back seat clutching his baseball glove. The officer instructs Ralph to call his wife to come pick up his son. Ralph is going to be awhile.
The officer investigates Ralph for suspected operating under the influence by having Ralph perform the standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs), and then takes Ralph down to the station for an alcohol breath test. Ralph blows 0.06 blood alcohol content (BAC). This is under the legal limit for OUI in Maine, and so Ralph is not charged with OUI. Instead, the officer charges Ralph with Driving to Endanger for driving dangerously and taking out the mailbox, and for Endangering the Welfare of a Child for having his son in the car at the time of his dangerous driving.
What is the Maine Statute for Endangering the Welfare of a Child?
Because this article is about Endangering the Welfare of a Child in Maine, I am not going to discuss the Driving to Endanger (DTE) element of Ralph’s situation. For more detailed information about defending against charges for Driving to Endanger (DTE), see my dedicated article. In Maine, a person is considered to have “endangered the welfare of a child” when that person commits a variety of offenses, including:
- Knowingly permits a child to enter or remain in a house of prostitution.
- Knowingly sells, furnishes, gives away or offers to sell, furnish or give away to a child under 16 years of age any intoxicating liquor, cigarettes, tobacco, air rifles, gunpowder, smokeless powder or ammunition for firearms.
- Being the parent, foster parent, guardian or other person having the care and custody of a child, knowingly deprives the child of necessary health care, with a result that the child is placed in danger of serious harm.
- Otherwise recklessly endangers the health, safety or welfare of the child by violating a duty of care or protection.
In this example, Ralph’s situation falls under the catch-all language of “recklessly endangers the health, safety, or welfare of the child by violating a duty of care or protection.” Here, the duty of care was for Ralph to drive his son safely to little league. The fact that he was driving dangerously after having had a few beers is a violation of Ralph’s duty of care to his son. Endangering the Welfare of a Child is a Class D misdemeanor. If convicted, the maximum penalties for a Class D misdemeanor include up to $2,000.00 in fines and up to 364 days jail time.
If the crash had been more serious, and Ralph had in fact injured himself and his son from crashing the car, then the charge of Endangering the welfare of a child can be elevated to a Class C felony:
- Being a parent, foster parent, guardian or other person responsible for the long-term general care and welfare of a child, recklessly fails to take reasonable measures to protect the child from the risk of further bodily injury after knowing:
- That the child had, in fact, sustained serious bodily injury or bodily injury under circumstances posing a substantial risk of serious bodily injury; and
- That such bodily injury was, in fact, caused by the unlawful use of physical force by another person.
Under these circumstances, Endangering the Welfare of a Child in Maine is a Class C felony. If convicted, the maximum penalties for a Class C felony include up to $5,000.00 in fines and up to five (5) years jail time.
How can a criminal defense lawyer help?
To convict you, the State needs to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that your actions met the statutory elements of Endangering the Welfare of a Child. It is your criminal defense lawyer’s responsibility to reveal the reasonable doubt whether your actions rise to the level of the charge. When examining your case, your criminal defense lawyer will want to look at a few questions:
- Is an Affirmative Defense available? An Affirmative Defense is a special legal argument that the State allows you to contradict the State’s accusation. For example, there are specific exceptions to the law that are not considered to be child endangerment. There are instances where a parent can give a minor alcohol in the home and under supervision. And, there are instances where a parent can give a child ammunition under the parent’s supervision, such as a father and son hunting together.
- What was the level of risk present? Was anyone injured? Was there any property damage?
- Did you have the right State of Mind at the time of the incident? Endangering the welfare of a child is a crime with a “state of mind” element. This means that the State must prove that the person accused was in the right state of mind at the time of the incident. In Ralph’s case, he would have been required to have a “reckless” state of mind at the time of the incident. When someone has a “reckless” state of mind, they are consciously disregarding a risk.
- Does the Defendant have a criminal history? Having a criminal history can make a difference in negotiating a resolution with the State’s attorney. If Ralph is a law-abiding citizen and a good dad, it will be easier to resolve the case favorably than if Ralph has a history of domestic violence and driving charges.
Outcomes for Endangering the Welfare of a Child
Here are just a few examples of some possible case outcomes for a charge of Endangering the Welfare of a Child in Maine.
Deferred disposition. Another resolution for Ralph could be entering guilty pleas to both charges, and then agreeing to stay out of trouble for a period, usually one year. During this “deferred disposition” the State could ask Ralph to meet several requirements, from taking parenting classes, defensive driving classes, etc. At the end of jumping through these hoops successfully, the State could dismiss both charges.
Plea Agreement. One resolution that could occur is Ralph chooses to enter into a plea agreement. In exchange for a guilty plea on the Driving to Endanger (DTE) charge, which carries with it a fine and license suspension period, the State would dismiss the more damaging charge for Endangering the Welfare of a Child.
Verdict. Because of the social stigma associated with a child endangerment charge, sometimes I encounter District Attorneys who take a hard line on these types of cases. If you encounter a District Attorney who chooses to not negotiate a resolution to the Endangerment charge, then your only choice is to take the case to a trial and get a verdict from a jury or a judge.
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