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Austin Child Abuse Defense Attorneys

Injury To a Child, Elderly, Or Disabled Individual in Texas

In Texas, the violation of child abuse laws is taken very seriously, given the consequences. At Cofer & Connelly, PLLC, we recognize the gravity of these matters. We also understand just how devastating and consequential it can be to be falsely accused of hurting a child, or another vulnerable person, such as an elderly or disabled individual.

Given how consequential a conviction under this section of Texas law can be, it is very important that you get in touch with experienced Austin criminal defense attorneys today if you or a loved one is facing such charges.

What Does the Texas Child Abuse Law Say?

Texas Statutes Section 22.04 addresses various actions and failures to act, which are both considered criminal offenses under certain circumstances. It states that a person commits an offense if they, through action or omission, intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence, cause a child, an elderly individual, or a person with disabilities:

  • Serious Bodily Injury: This refers to significant or severe physical harm.
  • Serious Mental Impairment or Injury: This includes significant psychological or mental harm.
  • Any Bodily Injury: This encompasses any physical harm, regardless of its severity.

Additionally, the law emphasizes that offenses committed in specialized settings like group homes and nursing facilities can leave staff and operators accountable for harm resulting from their actions or inactions.

Legal Duty And Responsibility For Vulnerable Groups

The law emphasizes duty and the assumption of responsibility in such cases. If these criteria aren’t met, a defendant may not be held liable – at least, not under this particular area of the law – for harm that they cause. Before a defendant can be convicted of this criminal act, it must be established that:

  • The person has a statutory or legal duty to act.
  • The person has assumed custody, care, or control of the vulnerable individual.

The statute specifically defines the vulnerable groups noted above as:

  • Children: Defined as persons 14 years of age or younger.
  • Elderly Individuals: Defined as persons 65 years of age or older.
  • Disabled Individuals: Defined as persons with certain conditions or those unable to protect themselves due to age or disability.

Severity of Offenses for Child Abuse or Harming a Vulnerable Person

The law differentiates the severity of offenses that may be committed against vulnerable groups based on the intent behind the action and the nature of the injury caused. For instance, intentional or knowing conduct leading to serious bodily or mental injury is classified as a felony of the first degree punishable by up to life imprisonment and a $10,000 fine. By contrast, reckless conduct in similar circumstances is classified as a felony of the second degree punishable by 2-20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

In short, the degree to which someone was intending to commit harm (or doing very little to mitigate the risk that they might cause harm) and the severity of any injuries that resulted from a defendant’s actions or inactions will significantly impact the penalties they’ll face if they’re convicted. 

Understanding Affirmative Defenses In Texas Child Abuse Cases

Texas law outlines several affirmative defenses that can be used in cases of alleged child abuse. These defenses are specific conditions under which the individual may not be held criminally responsible for the actions or omissions they are charged with, including:

  • Discontinuation of care with appropriate notice.
  • Medical care under the direction of a licensed physician.
  • Actions in line with religious healing practices.

This means that, in addition to other defensive strategies that may be available, the law explicitly outlines circumstances under which a defendant may be excused from a risk of conviction if they cause harm in certain situations. 

Notification of Discontinuation of Care

This defense applies when the individual had previously assumed responsibility for the care of the child, elderly, or disabled individual in question but decided to discontinue this care. For this defense to be valid, the individual must have communicated this decision in person to the dependent and in writing to their parents, guardians, or the Department of Family and Protective Services, clearly stating the cessation of care before the harm occurred. 

Medical and Emergency Care

Another defense recognized by the law is related to medical care. If the act or omission that led to the injury was a result of reasonable medical care under the direction of a licensed physician or emergency medical services provided in good faith, this can be a valid defense. This defense acknowledges the complexities and unforeseen outcomes that can occur in medical treatment and emergency situations.

Religious-Based Medical Treatment

The law also allows for a defense based on religious beliefs, specifically when the act or omission was based on treatment in accordance with the practices and tenets of a recognized religious method of healing. This defense takes into consideration the rights of individuals to follow their religious beliefs in the context of medical treatment and healing practices.

Lack of Awareness in Abuse Cases

An affirmative defense specific to cases involving a disabled individual is the lack of awareness of the individual’s disability. If the person accused of causing injury did not know, and could not have reasonably known, that the individual was disabled as defined by the law, this can serve as a defense.

Age and Relationship to the Alleged Victim

For specific offenses, the law provides a defense based on the age and relationship of the accused to the alleged victim. If the individual was not more than three years older than the alleged victim and the alleged victim was a child, this age difference can be considered a valid defense. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is Child Abuse Under Texas Law?

Under Texas Law, child abuse can occur through intentional, knowing, reckless, or negligent actions or omissions that result in serious bodily injury, serious mental impairment, or any bodily injury to a child. 

Who Is Considered A Child Under This Law?

The statute defines a child as any person 14 years of age or younger. This legal definition is important as it determines the applicability of the law in different cases involving minors.

What Are The Penalties For Child Abuse In Texas?

The penalties vary depending on the seriousness of the crime and the individual's intent. They can range from a state jail felony (180 days to 2 years in jail; $10,000 fine) for acts committed with criminal negligence to a felony of the first degree (up to life imprisonment; $10,000 fine) for intentional or knowing conduct leading to serious injury.

Can Medical Care Be A Defense In A Child Abuse Case?

Yes, reasonable medical care under the direction of a licensed physician or emergency medical services provided with reasonable care and in good faith is recognized as an affirmative defense under the law.

Is There A Defense Based On Religious Beliefs?

The law allows for a defense if the act or omission that resulted in harm was based on treatment in accordance with the practices and tenets of a religious healing method with an accepted record of favorable results.

Contact an Austin Child Abuse Defense Lawyer at Cofer & Connelly, PLLC

If you are accused of abuse, it's essential to seek legal counsel immediately. Otherwise, you could face serious criminal penalties for allegedly harming a particularly vulnerable individual. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you understand your rights, the nature of the charges against you, and the course of action most likely to result in a favorable outcome. 

The respected criminal defense lawyers at Cofer & Connelly, PLLC have extensive experience in handling such sensitive and complex cases. We are committed to protecting the rights of the clients whom we represent. 

For legal assistance in a child abuse case, contact Cofer & Connelly, PLLC’s child abuse attorneys in Austin at (512) 991-0576 or reach out to us online.

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