UPDATED 8/18/2021, 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 support the claims 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.
Our law firm specializes in defending citizens charged with injury to a child and our team of 5 former Prosecutors with over 75 years of experience stands ready to defend you and protect your freedom and future.
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 law, Injury To A Child charges are characterized as a 3rd degree felony. If convicted and sentenced, Injury To A Child carries a possible sentence of up to 10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
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 that caused physical pain to the child 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 failed to take action that caused the injury to the child.
CONTACT – in addition to proving state of mind or criminal intent, The State of Texas must prove contact or causation beyond a reasonable doubt. Did the action or lack of action of the criminally accused cause the resulting injury?
In other words, what if a mother grabs her child by the arm and the child pulls away and turns from his mother and slams his head in the refrigerator, causing a serious head injury? Is the mother guilty of injury to a child? Did her actions cause the injury to the child? NO! It was the independent actions of the child that were the causation of the injury and the mother may not be held criminally liable for failure to prove causation. This may not stop a police officer from investigating you and attempting to link together facts to make you appear guilty so be very careful when considering whether to speak to a detective or police officer in this situation.
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, the 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.
WHAT IF A PARENT SPANKS A CHILD IN TEXAS? IS THIS INJURY TO A CHILD?
The scenario of a parent disciplining a child is the most common scenario where we find innocent people charged with the crime of injury to a child. Is it illegal to spank a child? Are you permitted to exercise reasonable discipline to children?
Texas law states that corporal punishment is legal, provided it is not abusive. Reasonable discipline of a child is legal in Texas. What if you exercised reasonable discipline but Child Protective Services persisted in investigating you and now you are being called by an investigator or facing an injury to a child case? You must be proactive and contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to prepare a grand jury presentation.
Grand Jury Presentations: A Proactive Defense
Because injury to a child charges are characterized as a felony in Texas, your charges will be required to be presented to a grand jury for indictment. The Grand Jury is a panel of citizens that sit for 90-day terms and hear evidence and make determinations if probable cause for a felony case exits.
Unfortunately, many criminal attorneys are not aggressive in presenting a packet of evidence favorable to their clients for consideration. If your criminal defense attorney fails to present a packet of evidence to the grand jury, the grand jury will only hear one side of the story and you may miss out on the opportunity to have your case resolved favorably and quickly.
In this situation, the grand jury could hear the packet of evidence from your criminal defense lawyer and decide to keep the case as a felony, lower it to a lesser charge of a misdemeanor or No Bill the case (the equivalent of the case being dismissed and exonerated). Having a case no-billed by the grand jury would clear you of all wrong-doing and make you eligible to have your arrest and case records permanently expunged from your criminal record.
Should You Speak To A Detective?
What if a detective is calling you now about an investigation involving an injury to a child? You have done nothing wrong! Shouldn’t you “prove” your innocence to the detective by meeting with him and breaking down the facts so that he understands? NO!
Many innocent people are tempted to meet with a detective and try to “prove” their innocence, but it is important to understand the agenda of the detective. Detectives investigating injury to a child situations are trained to run a question and answer session as an interrogation. Many people who have been accused are under the mistaken belief that they can show up, tell their story to the detective and they will be cleared. That is not the way it will work!
Detectives and investigators are trained to bring you into a room, record the meeting and begin to interrogate you about information they have. Many times, as you attempt to respond to their trap questions, they are reading your body language and looking for any response by you as a sign of your guilt. Are you sweating? Did you hesitate when you responded to the question? Did your answer make sense? Were you very nervous? All of these responses can be caused by the stress of the environment of the situation, but the detective may choose to interpret them as signs of your guilt.
What if you answer the detective’s questions and they misunderstand you? What if what you said something but they wrote down something different? Although it may seem like a simple proposition to show up and attempt to “prove” your innocence, if the detective already believes you are guilty, he will only look for responses that verify his belief.
This is why it is so critical to hire an experienced criminal attorney BEFORE you speak to a detective. If you are unable to hire a criminal lawyer prior to the detective approaching you, Exercise your right to remain silent! Remember, everything you say CAN and WILL be used against you in court.
Sentenced Upon Conviction in Texas
When it comes to criminal convictions, the law also meticulously outlines the ordinary punishments for felony cases. 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. The range of punishment is dictated by any aggravating or mitigating factors that may exist factually in your case.
There are nuances to how state jail felony scenarios are sentenced. Your criminal 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 of our society.
However, those who have been wrongfully charged with injury to a child 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.
At The Fulgham Law Firm, we offer free consultations and a free case analysis where one of our 5 Former Prosecutors will be happy to walk you through the process and answer any questions you have about how to defend your injury to a child case and how to protect your freedom and your future.
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.