Articles Tagged with Child Abuse

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

The story of the defrocked priest, Daniel McCormack is back in the news. This time, because the prosecution has decided to drop the sexual assault charges against him stemming from a 2005 case involving the abuse of a then 10-year-old boy. In this case, the prosecution was seeking to have McCormack declared a “sexually violent offender.” If successful, the prosecutors would have been able to have McCormack removed indefinitely from society.

The Crime

Since the 1980s there have been a number of accusations involving the Catholic Church and its priests concerning alleged sexual misconduct and cover-ups. These cases started coming to light as now adult victims began to recount incidents of abuse, at the hands of these priests, that happened to them when they were children. The allegations of cover-up by the Catholic hierarchy permitted these priests to continue with this conduct, unabated for many years, by moving the abusive priests from one parish to another, allowing for the continuation of the abusive behavior. See

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

A Berwyn woman was convicted in May of three felony counts of criminal neglect in the 2011 death of her 14-year-old son, who was disabled. She had originally been charged with child endangerment, but those charges were dropped.

The son, who had been found in the front yard of the family home after paramedics were summoned, died of pneumonia. His mother said she was treating him for an illness with antibiotics intended for animals. Police reported that the woman’s house was filthy, overrun with animals (some reportedly dead), and had no running water or working appliances. The woman and her mother, who also lived in the home, denied that the home was unlivable.

Criminal Neglect of Disabled in Illinois

Because of their vulnerability, Illinois law provides special protection to the disabled by making criminal neglect of the disabled a separate offense. In Illinois, the caregiver of a disabled person may be charged with criminal neglect if it can be proved that he or she knowingly:

  • Acted in a manner that caused the person’s life to be endangered, his health to be injured, or a pre-existing condition to deteriorate;
  • Failed to perform acts he knew, or reasonably should have known, were necessary to maintain the disabled person’s life or health;
  • Abandoned the person;
  • Physically abused, harassed, intimidated or interfered with the person’s personal liberty; or
  • Exposed the person to willful deprivation.

The caregiver cannot be charged if she made a good faith effort to provide for the disabled person’s needs, but was unable to provide that care through no fault of her own.

Criminal neglect is a Class 3 felony, unless the neglect resulted in the disabled person’s death, in which case it is a Class 2 felony. If prison time is imposed, it may be anywhere from three to 14 years.

Defense Against Cook County Charge of Criminal Neglect

Defending against charges of criminal neglect of the disabled is a sensitive area. The vulnerable in our society need extra protection, since they either lack the physical or mental capacity to care for themselves. But caring for the disabled can be overwhelming, particularly in the case of the Berwyn mother: she was a single parent raising three other children while simultaneously taking care of her elderly mother.

While being overwhelmed does not excuse failing to provide for a disabled person’s basic needs, it also does not paint a portrait of someone coldly indifferent to the needs of the person in her care. In the case of the Berwyn mother, there were additional factors that likely led to the jury’s decision, namely the home being full of living and dead animals. But for others, the overwhelming task and lack of services could offer mitigating circumstances that could either sway a jury to acquit or cause a judge to impose little to no prison time.

It is a complete defense to criminal neglect of the disabled if the caregiver can show that she tried to provide for the disabled person’s needs but, through no fault of her own, was unable to meet those needs. Illinois consistently ranks in the bottom five in national surveys for access to disability services, meaning well-intentioned caregivers could find themselves suddenly overwhelmed with no place to turn for help.

Other factors that may show that the caregiver was not at fault for failure to provide services could include:

  • Lack of health insurance, or health insurance that does not cover the disabled person’s needs;
  • Lack of income to provide for medical needs not covered by health insurance, or;
  • Documented attempts to acquire services from social service agencies.

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