Though state laws may define it differently, each state considers child endangerment a serious crime that can be prosecuted as a felony in all 50 jurisdictions. This particular criminal offense is one in which an adult either intentionally or accidentally subjects a minor child to situations that are dangerous, inappropriate, or both. An adult charged under the child endangerment statutes of any state can expect to become involved in the legal system and end up in trial court unless he is able to reach a plea bargain agreement beforehand.
An adult charged with overseeing a minor child can commit child endangerment both knowingly or unknowingly. There are obvious examples, such as driving while intoxicated with a child in the car, or leaving a very young child home alone. Other types of endangerment aren't always so obvious. One frequent example is when practitioners of certain religions choose to pray for a sick child rather than take the child to a doctor for treatment. If the child incurs permanent damage due to this choice, formal charges could be forthcoming.
Depending upon the exact circumstance of the case, the prosecuting attorney might choose to charge the negligent adult with either a misdemeanor or a felony. In the event the adult is found guilty of the latter, sentences may range from one year in prison, in the state of New York, to ten years in Illinois. In 2004, Georgia became the last state to add child endangerment to the felony category, allowing the prosecutor to attach a charge of criminal negligence to the original offense.
Given the complexity of child endangerment laws in many states, the first step after being charged should be to hire an experienced attorney. A child endangerment case often begins when another adult reports their suspicions to the police that a child is in danger. Officers will normally investigate the case quickly and may take the accused into custody with an official arrest and jail confinement. The judge might allow the defendant to post bail and go free until his court arraignment.
After the arrest, the process proceeds much as any other court case would. If a plea bargain is not reached, the judge sets a date to hear the case, where each side presents its argument and either the judge or jury, depending upon the jurisdiction, renders a verdict of guilt or innocence. Obviously, a felony charge of child endangerment is much more serious than a misdemeanor and could come at the price of a hefty fine, prison time or both.