Articles Posted in Child Endangerment

Being accused of child abuse is a deeply serious and distressing situation. Such allegations can have profound implications on your personal life, professional reputation, and legal standing. In Chicago, as in the rest of Illinois, the legal system treats accusations of child abuse with utmost seriousness, with mechanisms in place to protect the welfare of children. For anyone accused, understanding the right steps to take is crucial in navigating the complexities of the legal process while safeguarding one’s rights and reputation.

Initial Steps to Take Following Accusations

Seek Immediate Legal Representation

A Chicago-area father is facing weapons charges after his 3-year-old son shot and killed his own mother while playing with the weapon in the back seat. The father is now facing a misdemeanor gun charge. The mother was brought to the hospital where she was pronounced dead. The child has been offered trauma counseling services that he will likely need for the rest of his life.

Meanwhile, the father is facing a misdemeanor charge of unlawfully transporting a weapon. The father had a license for the gun, but transporting it in the backseat of your vehicle while your 3-year-old is back there is considered a crime. 

Accidental shootings involving children are now a major problem across the United States. Since 2015, over 2,000 individuals have been accidentally shot by children. 90% of those individuals were other children with about 70% of the shootings happening in the home. The pandemic and quarantine made the situation worse, with accidental shootings rising over that period. 

Chicago police have charged an area mother after her seven children were found in an abandoned West Side apartment. The 31-year-old single mother has been charged with seven counts of child endangerment. Police were called after someone from the apartment building called to tell them that they heard noises inside an apartment that was supposed to be vacant. Inside, the police found seven children ages 14, 11, 7, 6, 5, 4, and 2. All seven children were brought to the hospital for an examination. Police say the children are in good health.

Neighbors described the woman as “nice” and a “hard worker.” According to the property manager, however, the apartment was supposed to be vacant and the woman and her children were squatting there. When the property manager tried to enter the apartment, he found it blocked off by a 2×4. 

The Children Were Found in Squalor

kevin-gent-219197-copy-300x200Of late, the DCFS (Illinois Department of Children and Family Services) in Chicago has been under fire for not properly enforcing child protection law. For example, children have died despite the fact that the department had already instituted proceedings. Many argue that the law was there to protect the victims, but its enforcement fell way below the standards that were originally envisaged by the legislature when they wrote the law. The case of Manuel Aguilar is harrowing. The 4-year-old was found burned and badly damaged in an abandoned home. The body was so malnourished and wasted that the first responders at first wrongly assumed that he was no older than a year. The lawyers started to unpack the true horror of the story during the proceedings.

The subsequent investigation showed that the victim had spent the best part of a year in an unheated room begging for food and water. He was beaten, starved, and forced to sleep in a cat litter box. His biological mother, Alyssa Garcia, and her teenage boyfriend stuffed the dead body in a bag and set it on fire in an abandoned house. Previously, the DCFS had opened and closed a number of cases relating to the family following complaints of persistent child abuse. An investigation found clerical errors in files and failures to follow up on complaints as well as muddled witness accounts.

Third Parties Who Were Never Interviewed as Part of Child Protection Proceedings

dmitry-ratushny-64773-copy-300x199Unfortunately, Chicago has acquired a reputation for child trafficking and is one of the crisis points recognized in the national strategy. Some of the people involved are supposed to be intimate partners who end up turning on the victims and forcing them to engage in indecent employment for little or no compensation. The practice is sometimes fueled by an illicit drug and sex work industry. Grooming is a very important step in getting someone to give up his or her rights, and that is where children are particularly vulnerable. They lack a sense of judgement and the perpetrators tend to look for those who are on the margins of society. Runaway kids are especially susceptible to this type of crime and the social service agencies in Chicago have attempted to do some preventative work.

In previous times, the law was insensitive to the fact that the victims may be engaging in illegal activity through no fault or volition of their own. That is why it was important to focus instead on the pimps who stand on the wayside in order to capture the illegally-acquired largesse from the trade. There are instances in which the victim is offered support whilst the perpetrator faces the full weight of a criminal prosecution. The reality is that many victims are so traumatized and frightened that they end up not raising a complaint in situations in which their cooperation is of the utmost importance.

A Comprehensive Strategy

Audience_-_Alberti_Flea_Circus,_MerleFest_2013Child endangerment laws in Chicago have not always had the best reception given the fact they have the power to take children away from their biological parents and even throw those parents in prison. There are cases where the facts are so harrowing that even the defense attorney is moved to take more precautions than usual due to public outcry. The principles of the laws as they stand are fairly simple. First and foremost, children are recognized as vulnerable members of society who need and deserve some level of protection. The highest priority for the law enforcement agencies is the protection of the rights and interests of the child in question even if that means the breakup of the natural family. The tricky element is that the enforcement authorities are not infallible. They do make mistakes and when they do, all hell breaks loose with the public ready to pounce.

Controversial Laws with Far-Reaching Consequences for All Involved

The case may have civil, family and criminal court elements all mixed together. For example, the parent or guardian may end up as a defendant in a serious criminal case that could lead to life imprisonment in the worst cases. In sentencing, the courts are guided by the need to express public outrage at the circumstances of the case and also deter others who might be thinking of doing the same. That does not mean that the person who has been charged with a stigmatizing crime such as child endangerment loses their human rights. For example, the presumption of innocence is embedded in the law but is often broken by the media who enjoy the more sensational aspects of these cases. That is how these cases have become so terrifying that defendants often fail to mount an effective defense even if all other indications are that they are not guilty of the crime for which they have been accused.

We have all seen shocking stories in the news about babies dying after being left in a hot car, or less commonly, a cold car. What we do not hear about as often is the number of pets that die every year from extreme heat or cold when left alone in a car for too long or outside for too long.

Most people would never do anything to intentionally hurt their pets, but sometimes mistakes in judgments are made. Is it ok to leave Fido in the car at 4 pm while you run a five-minute errand?  Probably. Even then, however, there could be issues. If it is over 90 degrees outside, even five minutes in the car is too long. You never know what will happen that can keep you away from your car longer than the intended five or ten minutes. You can never be sure something bad will not happen. A new law is an attempt to raise awareness of this issue and lower the incidence of Illinois residents leaving pets in cars.

What Does the Law Provide?

A Chicago woman was charged with child endangerment following the beating death of her 16-month-old son at the hands of her boyfriend. The mother was charged after evidence showed that she had been aware that the boyfriend was allegedly burning her son while he cared for him, but did not get treatment for the injuries and continued to leave the boy in her boyfriend’s care.


Illinois Child Endangerment and the Requirement of Knowingly

A person endangers the life or health of an Illinois child when she knowingly:

  • Causes or permits the life or health of the child to be endangered, or
  • Causes or permits a child to be placed in circumstances that endanger his life or health

As I have discussed in posts on other crimes, whether the defendant’s action was done “knowingly” is a specific element of the crime. In order to gain a conviction, the prosecution must be able to prove that the defendant left her son with the defendant knowing that his life and health were in danger.

In this case, the defendant’s family members on different occasions noticed the burn marks on the child and suggested she take the boy to the hospital. After her arrest, the defendant said she did not follow their advice because she was afraid child protective services would take him and her other three children away from her. She believed the burns were from a space heater in the family’s home. An autopsy on the boy showed a brain injury, broken and fractured ribs and internal damage to organs.

But just because the defendant was aware of the burn marks does not mean she was aware that her son’s life was in danger at the hands of her boyfriend. Nor does the presence of these other injuries prove that she was aware that her son’s life was in danger. There are a number of different factors that could show that the defendant had no idea her son was being harmed by her boyfriend. Such factors, which could be uncovered following an extensive review of the evidence and witness interviews, include:

  • Whether the other children showed evidence of injury;
  • Whether the burn marks on the child’s body looked to be caused by accidental touching of the space heater;
  • Whether the boy was born prematurely or had other birth trauma, which could explain some of the brain injuries;
  • Whether the fractures, broken bones and brain injuries occurred on the day of death or prior;
  • Whether the boy exhibited any changes in behavior that could have alerted his mother to the fact that he suffered a brain injury, or;
  • Whether the child had recently been in a car or other accident that may have accounted for the internal injuries.

The presence of any one of these factors would raise reasonable doubt as to whether the defendant knowingly caused or permitted her son’s life to be endangered, and could be enough to win an acquittal or reduction of charges.

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A Chicago man was arrested last week after shooting his ex-girlfriend in the thigh; he also shot the girlfriend’s mother, who is a Chicago police officer, numerous times, and kidnapped his son. Charges are pending, but it is likely the man faces at minimum charges of attempted murder, aggravated assault with a weapon and kidnapping. When arrested, the defendant allegedly admitted to the shootings, asking police, “Did I kill her?” and saying, “I didn’t want this to happen, I didn’t want it to go this far.”


Defense when Defendant Admits to Crime

In all criminal defense cases, the defense attorney’s goal is to get the best possible result for his client. The ultimate goal is an outright acquittal, where the defendant is found not guilty and walks out of the courthouse a free man. Yet in some cases, all the available evidence points to the defendant’s guilt, so an acquittal is not a viable defense strategy. This does not mean, however, that the defendant has no options – and it is these cases where an experienced criminal defense attorney can make all the difference.

We will assume, for this discussion, that the defendant’s statements to the police upon his arrest were in fact made, and that they are a true admission of his guilt. That confession, coupled with both shooting victims likely being able to identify him as the shooter, the defendant and girlfriend’s son being found in his custody, and the gun and spent casings being found in his car – assume again they are a match for the weapon used – all point to his guilt, and would make it difficult to argue a case of mistaken identity, accidental misfiring or self-defense.

The goal of the criminal defense attorney in this case, then, would be to work to get all or some of the charges reduced or dropped. The kidnapping charge has the potential to be reduced to child endangerment or dropped entirely. Technically the defendant’s actions meet the definition of aggravated kidnapping – he transported his son (because he did not have visitation with his son at the time, he is considered to have kidnapped him) while armed with a firearm and while discharging a firearm that caused great bodily harm to another person.

However, a case could be made that at the moment of the kidnapping, the defendant was actually acting in the child’s best interest. The child’s mother and grandmother had just been shot – leaving him alone and frightened in the middle of a crime scene was potentially more dangerous than the defendant removing him from the scene. The fact that the boy was soon found unharmed at the home of another family member adds additional support to reducing or dropping that charge.

The defendant is also allegedly a Gangster Disciple, a notorious Chicago-area gang. The prosecution may be willing to enter into a plea agreement for a reduced sentence in the defendant were willing to testify against any other current gang members. The defendant may also qualify as a participant in Chicago’s Gang Intervention Probation or Gang Violence Reduction Strategy programs.

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The recent indictment of Minnesota Viking’s running back Adrian Peterson on charges of child abuse, which stemmed from his admission that he disciplined his young son with a switch, is raising questions over just what constitutes corporal punishment, and when it crosses the line from discipline to child abuse.

Chicago Spanking LawsID-100266033

Under Illinois law, it is considered child abuse if a parent “inflicts excessive corporal punishment” upon his or her child. The use of the qualifier “excessive” makes clear that a Chicago parent is allowed to use corporal punishment when disciplining his or her child. But the law fails to define what pushes the corporal punishment, which may include spanking, hitting, pinching, slapping, or any other type of action with the intent of inflicting pain, from permissible to excessive.

The Illinois courts have dealt with the issue of corporal punishment at various times, consistently ruling that “parental rights of discipline are limited by a standard of reasonableness.” But they cite no examples of what constitutes unreasonableness.

How, then, is a parent to know whether discipline of a child will result in criminal charges? Unfortunately, they cannot, since there is no clear cut answer. What is reasonable today may be unreasonable tomorrow, depending on society’s changing views of corporal punishment. It can even vary depending on the type of punishment inflicted, the region, and the terms that are used to describe the punishment.

Cases such as these highlight the importance of obtaining experienced legal counsel. The sole basis of whether a parent’s physical discipline of his or her child qualifies as excessive under the law comes down to a reasonableness standard.

Defending against child abuse charges that stem from corporal punishment requires the ability to not only thoroughly examine all the circumstances to make a case for reasonableness, but also the ability to make a jury understand why the parent believed his or her method of discipline was reasonable. It also requires an examination of medical evidence regarding any alleged injuries, as well as photographs taken following the incident.

Whether the punishment is reasonable will rest in part on the severity of the discipline and whether it caused any injury. That requires a careful examination of any photographic evidence and testimony from qualified medical experts on the lasting impact, if any, from the discipline.

Photographs taken immediately after the incident may show red marks or other visible evidence of the physical discipline. But any type of physical contact can leave an imprint. Instead, the real question is whether that imprint remained, or whether it faded away shortly after the incident occurred. Physical marks that disappear shortly after the discipline would disprove excessive use of corporal punishment. If there are no follow-up photographs, medical testimony from David L. Freidberg’s team of medical experts could help jurors understand that an “injury” that looks bad in a poorly taken photograph actually faded away in an hour or two.

Eyewitness testimony is also important in disproving the excessive nature of the discipline. For example, if the child was running around playing like normal shortly after the punishment, as opposed to limping, that would go toward disproving that the punishment was excessive.  Continue reading

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