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What Is Reckless Endangerment of a Child in Tennessee?

Unfortunately, child custody disputes can get very contentious at times, particularly if one parent alleges that the other parent has abused or neglected the child. In fact, criminal charges may even be filed against a parent when such allegations are made. To help you better understand how such allegations might affect you and your rights to your child, a Murfreesboro child custody lawyer at Bennett | Michael | Hornsby explains the criminal offense of reckless endangerment of a child in Tennessee.Murfreesboro divorce attorney

How Does Tennessee Law Define Reckless Endangerment of a Child?

Tennessee Code § 39-15-401 governs child abuse and child neglect or endangerment, reading in pertinent part as follows:

  • Any person who knowingly, other than by accidental means, treats a child under eighteen (18) years of age in such a manner as to inflict injury commits a Class A misdemeanor; provided, however, that, if the abused child is eight (8) years of age or less, the penalty is a Class D felony.
  • Any person who knowingly abuses or neglects a child under eighteen (18) years of age, so as to adversely affect the child’s health and welfare, commits a Class A misdemeanor; provided, that, if the abused or neglected child is eight (8) years of age or less, the penalty is a Class E felony.
  • A parent or custodian of a child eight (8) years of age or less commits child endangerment who knowingly exposes such child to or knowingly fails to protect such child from abuse or neglect resulting in physical injury or imminent danger to the child, committing a Class A misdemeanor.

Tennessee law defines “imminent danger” as “the existence of any condition or practice that could reasonably be expected to cause death or serious bodily injury.” Moreover, to prove the requisite mens rea (or state of mind) of knowingly, the prosecution must show that the defendant “knew, or should have known upon a reasonable inquiry, that abuse to or neglect of the child would occur which would result in physical injury to the child. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary parent or legal custodian of a child eight (8) years of age or less would exercise under all the circumstances as viewed from the defendant’s standpoint.”  

Can I Be Charged with Child Endangerment for Disciplining My Child?

A common allegation made by one parent against another parent is that the parent’s disciplinary actions amount to abuse. In the State of Tennessee, criminal charges cannot be filed against a parent based upon an allegation that unreasonable corporal punishment was administered to the child unless the incident was investigated by a law enforcement official, and a report was filed or there is an independent medical verification of injury to the child.

What Court Has Jurisdiction Over Child Endangerment?

Allegations of child endangerment may be addressed in juvenile court, a court of general session, circuit, and/or criminal court. In Tennessee, all these courts have what is referred to as “concurrent jurisdiction,” meaning that allegations of a violation of the child endangerment statute may be litigated in any of these courts. If an allegation of child endangerment is filed in juvenile court, and the defendant pleads not guilty, the judge may send the case to the grand jury which can result in criminal charges being filed against the defendant or the juvenile court can preside over the matter if the defendant expressly waives his/her right to indictment, presentment, grand jury investigation, and a jury trial. If the defendant pleads guilty in juvenile court, the judge will sentence him/her without further proceedings.

What Is the Potential Punishment for a Child Endangerment Conviction?

The potential criminal penalties for a child endangerment conviction will depend on the level of the offense but can range up to 12 years in prison. In addition, a conviction for child endangerment may result in the court ordering that the defendant refrain from having any contact with the victim (the child) for a specific period or indefinitely. Finally, a child endangerment conviction will almost certainly impact your parental rights, including parenting time with the child, even if the court does not impose a no contact order.

Contact a Murfreesboro Child Custody Lawyer 

If you have additional questions about reckless endangerment of a child in Tennessee, consult with an experienced Murfreesboro child custody lawyer as soon as possible. Contact the team at Bennett | Michael | Hornsby as soon as possible by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your free appointment.