Endangering the welfare of a child is a serious crime in New Jersey, with harsh consequences for a conviction. If you are charged with endangering a child, you must be advised and represented by a New Jersey criminal defense attorney, and you must contact that attorney at once.

How can you defend yourself against a child endangerment charge? What penalties can be imposed for a conviction? If you’ll keep reading, you’ll learn the answers to these questions, and you’ll also learn more about your rights if you are charged with endangering a child in this state.

In New Jersey, the law against endangering the welfare of a child is divided into two parts. One part deals with child endangerment of a sexual nature. The other section of the law concerns non-sexual endangerment of a child through abuse or neglect.

How is Endangering the Welfare of a Child Defined?

New Jersey lawmakers, judges, prosecutors, and police officials make crimes against children one of their top priorities. State law recognizes four degrees of child endangerment, but a conviction on any child endangerment charge is punishable upon conviction with time in prison.

New Jersey does not classify crimes as felonies or misdemeanors, but in other states, all New Jersey child endangerment charges would be considered felony charges.

What constitutes endangering the welfare of a child? Child endangerment includes but is not necessarily limited to physical assault, statutory rape, sexual abuse, child pornography offenses, abandonment, cruelty, and conducting criminal activities in the child’s home or presence.

What Are the Penalties For Endangering the Welfare of a Child?

Along with the penalties listed here, and depending on the details of the case, a child endangerment conviction may require mandatory sex offender registration in New Jersey.

  1. A fourth-degree child endangerment conviction may be penalized with up to 18 months in a New Jersey prison.
  2. A third-degree child endangerment conviction may be penalized with 3 to 5 years in prison.
  3. A second-degree child endangerment conviction may be penalized with 5 to 10 years in prison.
  4. A first-degree child endangerment conviction may be penalized with 10 to 20 years in prison.

How Are Sex Crimes Against Minors Handled?

Anyone in New Jersey who has a duty or responsibility to care for a minor and engages in sexual behavior with that minor is guilty of child endangerment in the second degree. Anyone under the age of 18 is considered a minor.

If someone without a duty or responsibility to care for a minor engages in sexual behavior with a minor, the charge is child endangerment in the third degree.

How Are Child Abuse and Neglect Crimes Handled?

Anyone in New Jersey who has a duty or responsibility to care for a minor and causes harm to that minor through neglect or abuse may be charged with child endangerment in the second degree.

Abuse and neglect include abandoning a child, exposing a child to the risk of harm (such as driving while intoxicated with a child as a passenger, or leaving a child locked in a hot car), or failing to provide supervision or adequate medical care, food, clothing or shelter.

A person who is not the parent or guardian of a child can be charged with child endangerment in the third degree for inflicting pain on a child, tormenting a child, failing to act to prevent the suffering of a child, or by causing hardships and stresses that put a child’s health at risk.

How Are Child Pornography Crimes Handled?

Many of the crimes that involve child pornography in New Jersey are charged as child endangerment crimes:

  1. If anyone responsible to care for a child exposes the child to explicit sexual activity, the crime is charged as second-degree child endangerment. If someone without a duty to care for a child commits the crime, the charge is third-degree child endangerment.
  2. If anyone responsible to care for a child allows the child to engage in photographed or filmed sexual behavior, the crime is first-degree child endangerment. If someone with no duty to care for a child commits the crime, it is second-degree child endangerment.
  3. Selling, distributing, sharing, or otherwise disseminating images, films, or videos of a minor engaged in sexual activity is charged as second-degree child endangerment. Possessing child pornography is usually charged as third-degree child endangerment.

A New Jersey child endangerment conviction that involves child pornography or sexual abuse cannot be expunged and requires the convicted individual to register as a sex offender.

Child Endangerment Convictions Also Entail Extra-Legal Penalties

Because a child endangerment conviction may show up on a background check, a convicted offender may have trouble finding employment or housing for years to come. A child endangerment conviction will also prevent you from attending certain colleges and universities.

If you hold a professional license in New Jersey, a child endangerment conviction may trigger disciplinary action by your professional licensing board, and if you are an immigrant in New Jersey, a child endangerment conviction will put you at risk for deportation.

How Will an Attorney Defend You Against a Child Endangerment Charge?

If you have been charged with endangering the welfare of a child in New Jersey, you must be advised and represented by a New Jersey child endangerment attorney who will aggressively and effectively defend you against the charge.

Experienced New Jersey judges, divorce lawyers, and criminal defense attorneys see false accusations of child endangerment in child custody and divorce cases far too frequently. Fabricated child endangerment accusations may be made for a number of reasons.

The accuser may be the child’s other parent hoping to gain an advantage in a divorce or custody battle. Sometimes, a resentful teenager will fabricate a lie against a step-parent. In other cases, a phony child endangerment claim will be made irrationally, with no apparent motive.

When Should You Contact a Criminal Defense Lawyer?

When a false accusation of child endangerment has been made, your attorney’s job will be to cast doubt on the accusation, challenge the accuser’s motives, and get to the truth about what really happened – or didn’t happen.

Every child endangerment charge is taken seriously by New Jersey’s criminal justice system because the failure to take such charges seriously leads to tragedies. The state’s serious approach to child endangerment is also why a conviction for the crime must be avoided.

If you are accused of endangering the welfare of a child, you must contact a New Jersey criminal defense attorney immediately for the sound legal advice and aggressive defense representation that you are very much going to need.