UPDATED 7/8/2021, Original Post: April 5, 2019
Injury to a child in this state is taken seriously – Texas law is direct and highly punitive.
Take a Conroe man convicted in a severe child abuse trial by jury on two counts of injury to a child earlier this year. The offenses were against two toddlers, who sustained multiple injuries including severe head trauma, fractures, lacerations, and burns, among others. Prosecution submitted evidence of the man’s text messages directing the children’s mother to lie to authorities, and brought to light the perpetrator’s tendency toward domestic violence, citing “previous abuse of two other children of similar age in a similar way.”
As punishment for his actions, the judge stacked two life terms, and the offender will not begin serving his second life sentence until he is granted parole on the first – if he ever is. Even the mother, who pleaded guilting to not seeking help because she was afraid she would lose her kids, was sentenced to two 10-year prison terms.
As you can see, Injury to a Child cases can be incredibly serious. Worse, while it’s completely understandable that our state would want to protect some of its most vulnerable citizens, those charged with injury to a child are almost always automatically presumed guilty – whether the facts are there or not.
Whether you believe that police or prosecutors made a mistake or want to seek rehabilitation for improper behavior on your part, fighting for your future means working with a Texas criminal defense attorney who specializes in child abuse law.
In the meantime, educate yourself about Texas law and how it applies to injury to a child cases.
How Texas Law Handles Injury to a Child
Under Texas Penal Code Section 22.04, a person may only be convicted of committing the offense of “injury to a child” if one of three conditions is met regarding his or her state of mind and it directly caused one of three types of legally defined injury:
STATE OF MIND – The actor must have a) intentionally or knowingly, or b) recklessly committed an act or c) criminally neglected the child. Accidents are not covered under the charge of injury to a child.
For example – what if a young child suffers a concussion because the child’s sister hit her on the head? If the parents are now being investigated for injury to a child, are they guilty? No! The State of Texas must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the parents had the criminal intent to take action or fail to take action that caused the injury to the child.
CONTACT – here we are talking about causation. Did the action or lack of action of the criminally accused cause the resulting injury?
RESULTING INJURY – By the action or omission as outlined above, there must be direct causation of 1) serious bodily injury, 2) serious mental deficiency, impairment or injury, or 3) bodily injury.
What is Serious Bodily Injury under Texas Law? Serious bodily injury is defined as a permanent or protracted loss of use of a bodily member or organ. For example, if a child is permanently crippled or blinded or permanently disfigured because of the actions of another.
What is Bodily Injury? Bodily injury is contact that causes physical pain. The best proof of bodily injury would be photos of bruising, etc. Is bruising or visible proof of physical injury required? No, but lack of photos or visible evidence weakens the case substantially for the prosecutor.
Essentially, prosecution must prove the parent, legal guardian, or caretaker has met all of these requirements in order to secure a conviction. According to Texas law a “child” is 14 years old or younger.
How Charges Are Determined in Texas
When you are unfamiliar with this type of law, a charging document can contain quite the intimidating terminology. All offenses related to “Injury to a Child” charges are considered a felony:
FIRST-DEGREE – Conduct committed intentionally or knowingly that results in serious bodily injury or serious mental deficiency, impairment, or injury of a child is classified as a first-degree felony.
SECOND-DEGREE – If the accused is considered to have engaged in the criminal conduct recklessly, the offense is a felony of the second degree.
THIRD-DEGREE – When resulting injuries are not considered serious, but the act is deemed intentional or has been committed knowingly, the actor will face third-degree felony charges.
STATE JAIL – For other injuries that are a result of recklessness, a state jail felony charge will be issued. In the case of criminal negligence, it is also a state jail felony.
When charges are “stacked,” the law says a single criminal episode may be prosecuted under either or both sections. If it is prosecuted and sentences are assessed for conviction under this and another section of the code, the sentences will run concurrently.
Sentenced Upon Conviction in Texas
When it comes to convictions, the law also meticulously outlines the ordinary punishments for felony. Generally speaking, those who are convicted of any offenses under the statute for “injury to a child” will face jail time ranging from six months to life in prison, plus a fine of up to $10,000.
There are nuances to how state jail felony scenarios are sentenced. Your attorney will be able to share details based on the particulars of your case. Advocating for the health and well-being of children is indeed noble – and necessary. It is everyone’s duty in a society to protect the most vulnerable in it.
However, those who have been charged have rights as well. You deserve the strongest possible defense, so that you can have a chance at getting your life back on track and contributing to society. It starts with knowing the law.
About the Author:
Brandon Fulgham has an in-depth understanding of both Texas law and Texans themselves. Before practicing law here, he received his undergraduate degree from TCU, and his law degree from South Texas College of Law in Houston. After graduation, he worked in District Attorneys’ offices as a prosecutor, building cases designed to put people behind bars. Now, he uses that knowledge to protect the rights of people in and around Fort Worth, making sure they receive the strongest possible defense when they find themselves on the wrong side of the law. He has been recognized for his work by The National Trial Lawyers, Fort Worth Magazine, and others.