Aggravated Child Abuse

If you were charged with the crime of aggravated child abuse are charged under Florida Statute § 827.03(2)(a), then seek out the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney in Fort Lauderdale, FL, at Bacchus Law Firm

Child abuse crimes can be charged as aggravated child abuse if an aggravated battery was committed, the child was willfully tortured, the child was maliciously punished, the child was caged, or the abuse caused great bodily harm.

These cases are prosecuted by the Child Abuse Unit of the State Attorney's Office in Broward County. Prosecutors in the Broward County Child Abuse Unit receive special training to investigate and prosecute these difficult cases. You also need a criminal defense attorney experienced in fighting these types of serious felony charges throughout the Criminal Circuit Courts in Broward County, FL.

Attorneys for Aggravated Child Abuse in Fort Lauderdale, FL

The attorneys at Bacchus Law Firm also represent clients charged with lesser included offenses of aggravated child abuse including:

If you were charged with any form of child abuse, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at Bacchus Law Firm to discuss the charges pending against you, the potential punishments for that offense, and the best ways to fight the charges aggressively for an outright dismissal.

Call (954) 500-5555 to discuss the case today.


 

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Elements of Aggravated Child Abuse

Before a prosecutor can prove the criminal offense of Aggravated Child Abuse under Florida Statute § 827.03(2)(a), the State must prove the following two elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. The victim is a child under the age of 18 years old; and
  2. The Defendant either:
    • committed aggravated battery upon the child;
    • willfully tortured the child;
    • maliciously punished the child;
    • willfully and unlawfully caged the child; or
    • knowingly or willfully committed child abuse upon the child and in so doing caused great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement to the child.

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Is Aggravated Child Abuse a Felony in Florida? 

Florida takes the safety of its children seriously, so the court heavily penalizes aggravated child abuse. The offense is considered a level 9 crime under the Florida Criminal Punishment Code. This means you will be required to serve a mandatory minimum sentence. Listed below are the penalties for aggravated child abuse in Florida: 

First-degree felony:

  • Mandatory minimum of 48 months in prison but up to 30 years 
  • A fine of up to $10,000
  • 30 years of probation

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What is Aggravated Battery?

If the offense of aggravated child abuse is alleged as an aggravated battery, state prosecutors must prove the following elements:

  1. The Defendant intentionally:
    • touched or struck the victim against the will of the victim;
    • caused bodily harm to the victim.
  2. In so doing, the Defendant intentionally or knowingly caused:
    • great bodily harm
    • permanent disability
    • permanent disfigurement
    • used a deadly weapon

Theoretically, child abuse for aggravated battery could also be proven if the victim was pregnant and the Defendant knew or should have known the victim was pregnant.

A weapon is a “deadly weapon” if it is used or threatened to be used in a way likely to produce death or great bodily harm. This can include a weapon, to everyday objects such as pillows.


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Examples of Maliciously Punishing a Child 

If aggravated child abuse for maliciously punishing the victim is alleged under § 827.03(c), Fla. Stat., the term "maliciously” means wrongfully, intentionally, and without legal justification or excuse. Common examples of malicious punishment can include throwing a child to the ground out of frustration or having them sleep outside.

As provided in Florida's standard jury instructions for this crime, maliciousness may be established by circumstances from which one could conclude that a reasonable parent would not have engaged in the damaging acts toward the child for any valid reason and that the primary purpose of the acts was to cause the victim unjustifiable pain or injury.


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What is great bodily harm and Mental Injury?

If it is alleged the act of child abuse caused great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement to the child, then the standard jury instructions define “child abuse” to mean:

  • the intentional infliction of physical or mental injury upon a child;
  • an intentional act that could reasonably be expected to result in physical or mental injury to a child; or
  • active encouragement of any person to commit an act that results or could reasonably be expected to result in physical or mental injury to a child.

When it is alleged that the child abuse caused mental injury under § 827.03(1)(d), Fla. Stat., the standard jury instructions in Florida provide that the term “mental injury” is defined to include injury to the intellectual or psychological capacity of a child as evidenced by a discernible and substantial impairment in the ability of the child to function within the normal range of performance and behavior as supported by expert testimony.


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Possible Defense to Aggravated Child Abuse 

Under § 39.01(49), Florida Statutes, if the defendant’s status as a parent is at issue then affirmative defenses might apply. Florida Statute 827.03, Fla. Stat., is silent as to:

  • which the prosecution or the defense bears the burden of persuasion of the affirmative defense; and
  • the standard for the burden of persuasion.

Under the common law in Florida for affirmative defenses, the defendant typically has both the burden of production and the burden of persuasion on affirmative defenses by a preponderance of the evidence.

The Florida Supreme Court has often decided, however, that once a defendant meets the burden of production on an affirmative defense, the burden of persuasion is on the State to disprove the affirmative defense beyond a reasonable doubt (e.g., self-defense and consent to enter in a burglary prosecution).

Because the law is not well settled in this area, trial judges must resolve the issue via a special instruction. That special instruction provides:

It is not a crime for a parent or a person who is acting in place of a parent of a child to impose reasonable physical discipline on a child for misbehavior under the circumstances even though physical injury resulted from the discipline.

If the burden of persuasion is on the defendant the special instruction provides:

If you find that the defendant proved under appropriate burden of persuasion that he or she was a parent or a person acting in place of a parent of the victim that he or she imposed reasonable physical discipline on the victim for misbehavior under the circumstances, you should find him or her not guilty.

If the defendant did not prove under the appropriate burden of persuasion that he or she was a parent or a person acting in place of a parent of the victim or if the defendant did not prove that he or she imposed reasonable physical discipline on the victim for misbehavior under the circumstances, you should find the Defendant guilty, if all the elements of the charge have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

If the burden of persuasion is on the State then the standard jury instructions provide: 

If you find that the State proved under the appropriate burden of persuasion that the defendant was not a parent or a person acting in place of a parent of the victim or if you find that the State proved under the appropriate burden of persuasion that the defendant’s physical discipline on the victim was not reasonable for misbehavior under the circumstances, you should find the Defendant guilty, if all of the elements of the charge have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.


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Additional Resources

Child Abuse Unit at the State Attorney’s Office in Broward County - Find an attachment discussing child abuse crimes prosecuted by the child abuse unit of the State Attorney’s Office in Broward County, FL. Find information on the stages of a case in a child abuse prosecution in Fort Lauderdale, FL.

Abuse, Aggravated Abuse and Neglect of a Child | Florida Statutes - Follow the link provided to read the section of the Florida Statutes over aggravated child abuse. You can read the legal definition of the crime, and find definitions to terms such as mental injury and malicious punishment. The statutes can be read on the official website of the Florida Legislature, Online Sunshine. 


This article was last updated on Monday, April 1, 2019.

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