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Endangering the Welfare of a Child – NJSA 2C:24-4

NJ Child Endangerment Defense Lawyer

Accusations of endangering the welfare of a child are serious in New Jersey. A conviction can subject a defendant to imprisonment and Megan’s Law registration. You need a highly educated, experienced, and aggressive criminal attorney that will stand by your side and defend your rights. I have experienced prosecuting criminal cases and defending against allegations of child abuse. This includes over a decade of criminal defense experience and several years as a state-designated attorney for parents accused of abuse and neglect.

Aside from the criminal consequences, being convicted of endangering the welfare of a child can also carry significant collateral consequences. This includes impacting your constitutional rights to vote and possess a firearm. Such a conviction can also have a serious impact on child custody, professional, and immigration aspects of your life.  Call or contact us online right away if you are facing child abuse charges.

NJ Child Endangerment Laws

New Jersey Statute NJSA 2C:24-4 defines endangering the welfare of a child. It provides for two general ways a person can be charged with this offense. A “child” is any person under 18 years of age. Child endangerment charges can be broken down into two categories: sexual and non-sexual child endangerment.

Sexual Child Endangerment Charges

The first applies to any individual who has a legal duty to take care of a child or who has taken upon themselves the responsibility to care for a child. If such a person engages in any sexual conduct that might “impair or debauch” the morals of a child they can be found guilty of second-degree endangering. Any other person who commits such an act against a child can be found guilty of third-degree child endangerment.

Non-Sexual Child Endangerment Charges

Non-sexual child endangerment is akin to criminal neglect. In this context, it applies to a person who has a legal responsibility to care for a child. It also applies to any individual who takes responsibility for the care of a child. If either person neglects or abuses a child they can be found guilty of second-degree child endangerment. A person who did not have a responsibility to care for a child that abuses or neglects a child can be found guilty of third-degree child endangerment.

Examples of Criminal Child Abuse & Neglect

Endangering the welfare of a child can take many forms. Buying underage children alcohol or providing them with drugs can also rise to criminal child endangerment, as are many other possible actions. Other examples include:

  • The allowance of physical or psychological abuse of your child. 
  • The exploitation of any child.
  • Sexual abuse, including collecting, making, and distributing child pornography.
  • Placing a child in general danger or at risk of death or harm.
  • Abandoning a child in any place not designated as a “safe haven” for children.
  • Neglecting the child by not giving them appropriate shelter, food, water, and hygiene facilities.
  • Driving under the influence of any type of mind-altering substance while a child is in the car.

Prosecutors commonly bring child endangerment charges for the ownership, creation, and/or distribution of child pornography.

Promoting a child in prostitution or taking and sharing sexually suggestive photos of anyone under the age of eighteen can also result in child endangerment charges. Images that are marketed as child pornography, even if the individual depicted was legal, are also considered child endangerment and child abuse.

The state is given a lot of leeway when it comes to proving these charges in court compared to most other criminal charges and the deck can seem stacked against you. You need an attorney who has specific experienced successfully defending such charges.

Potential Charges And Consequences

There are different degrees to child endangerment charges, much like there are for other crimes. Here are some examples of what kind of exposure different types of child endangerment scenarios can result in.

First-Degree Child Endangerment

A person who encourages or somehow leads a child into prohibited sexual behavior for the purposes of photographic documentation of suggestive material for any reason is guilty of a first-degree felony. Possession of over 100,000 images can also elevate a child endangerment charge to first degree.

A first-degree felony charge carries ten to twenty years in prison with a fine of up to $250,000. Once the offender is released from prison, they will be under lifetime community supervision and have to file as a sex offender with the state under Megan’s Law.

Second-Degree Child Endangerment

The person taking the photographs, filming the movie, or otherwise documenting child sexual behavior can be charged with a second-degree felony, especially when using a computer to store, manipulate, copy, or share the images with others.

A guardian who deprives the child of essential necessities or is found to have abused the child in some way can also be considered guilty of a second-degree felony. The guardian of the child in question that engages in sexual activity with a child that disrupts the healthy life and growth of the child can also be found guilty of a second-degree felony. If a person has a number of photographs ranging from 1,000 to 100,000, they can be convicted of second-degree child endangerment.

Consequences for a second-degree felony include from five to ten years in prison and even a fine of up to $150,000. It is automatically presumed that a second-degree offender will spend some time in prison for the crime. This applies even to first-time offenders.

Third-Degree Felonies

An individual with less than 1,000 improper images in their possession may be charged with third-degree child endangerment. Any person who is involved in any kind of sexual activity with a child but does not have legal guardianship of that child can be found guilty of third-degree child endangerment.

Third-degree charges in New Jersey include a prison sentence from three to five years. Fines could reach up to $15,000. Any prior convictions for the same, or a related, charge can act as an aggravating factor in sentencing.

Megan’s Law

Not every conviction of child endangerment subjects the defendant to Megan’s Law requirements. However, most sex-related child endangerment charges do so. Endangering the welfare of a child by engaging in sexual conduct which would impair or debauch the morals of the child pursuant to under NJSA 2C:24-4 or endangering the welfare of a child pursuant to paragraph (4) of subsection b. NJSA 2C:24-4 specifically require strict compliance with Megan’s Law upon conviction.

Megan’s Law is a set of laws in New Jersey that mandate the monitoring of individuals found guilty of a sex crime. There is also a similar national sex offender database. Information about the offender is made public on a state internet database, including their full address, place of employment, vehicle identification, and certain details of the crime committed.

Someone who must register as a sex offender in the state of New Jersey is under a certain level of observation for life. Each person will be placed on a tier depending on their crime and the prosecutor’s analysis of recidivism, called a risk assessment. 

Your neighbors may receive notice that you are living in the neighborhood. There are rules pertaining to where you can live, such as how far you have to be from schools and daycares. You will not be allowed at parks and public pools.

Your presence on the internet will also be monitored and you can expect the police to drop by sometimes to check on you. Failing to register as a sex offender or failing to notify the state of a change of address after being subjected to Megan’s Law requirements are separate crimes. These are usually graded in the fourth-degree range.

Possible Defenses

Defending Sex-Related Endangerment Charges

There are several defense positions you can take when accused of possessing child pornography or other child endangerment activity. Maybe the images on your computer aren’t yours. Have you shared the use of your computer with anyone else? Someone could have sent you inappropriate images in an email and you didn’t know what they were before opening them. You could have accidentally clicked onto a website that contained the images, unknown to you. 

You could have been set up by an angry spouse, co-worker, employee, or another person close to you. The prosecution must prove that you were the specific person using the computer at the time the images were downloaded, for example. They must prove that you knowingly endangered the life of a child.

Any illegal images of children obviously have to be sexual in nature. A picture you took of your three-year-old son streaking through the yard with the intention to embarrass him in the future, for example, is not child pornography.

Defending non-Sex-Related Endangerment Charges

In the house party or providing alcohol to children context, I have seen many such charges caused by angry or jealous family members. All allegations of such child endangerment must be investigated by child services. Defenses in such a case could be that you brought alcohol to a party where you were unaware of the presence of underage children or that you did not intentionally provide such a alcohol to a minor.

I have also defended parents charged of driving under the influence of alcohol with children in the car.  As an experienced municipal court prosecutor and DUI defense attorney, I know how such cases are approached by the state and how to best defend against such charges.

Remember, the prosecution must prove beyond any reasonable doubt that you have committed the crime. This is a high standard and while the state takes child endangerment charges very seriously, they can be successfully defended against.

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