“Sometimes, even the best-behaved children prove incapable of following simple directions from their parents.” State v. Bush, 2020-Ohio-772
In a recent Ohio case, a mother told her four-year-old daughter to play in their front yard with her elder brother. Wandering outside and not finding her brother, the girl left the premises to explore across the street.
Police officers found her moments later and returned her home, with the entire incident lasting about five minutes. The mother was charged with child endangerment. On appeal, the court found she should not have been convicted and she did not act recklessly. State v. Bush, 2020-Ohio-772
“No parent of a child under eighteen years of age shall create a substantial risk to the health or safety of the child, by violating a duty of care, protection, or support.” Ohio Revised Code 2919.22.
The Courts in Ohio have stated that a parent is guilty of child endangerment when the parent acts recklessly and puts the child at risk. State v. Hartley, 194 Ohio App.3d 486, 2011-Ohio-2530. A parent is reckless when he or she disregards a substantial risk of harm that is likely to result.
The Penalties for child endangerment in Ohio are up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
The Courts in Ohio have found that the following factors could be considered in determining whether a parent showed “reckless behavior” for purposes of child endangerment:
- Amount of time the child was left unsupervised
- The age of the child
- Did the parent have notice of the risk of harm?
- Did the parent take any precautions?
When the child is not unsupervised for a long period of time, and precautions were taken to lessen the risk of harm, courts generally find no reckless behavior, and no child endangerment. For example:
- The Court found a father was not guilty of child endangerment when he left the child alone for ten minutes at a playground. State v. McLeod, 2006-Ohio-579.
- A parent was not guilty of child endangerment when he left his five-year-old child in a running car for 27 minutes because the child had the father’s cell-phone and the air conditioning was left on. State v. Hughes, 3d Dist. Shelby No. 17-09-02, 2009-Ohio-4115.
- Mother found not guilty of child endangerment where she told her child to play outside in the front yard. Though the child was found by police unattended near the street, the Court found she was not reckless because only a few minutes passed from when the child went outside and when police located her, and the mother believed her older son was in the front yard to assist with supervising the child. State v. Bush, 2020-Ohio-772.
- Police called to domestic dispute between husband and wife. Husband found to be protecting children, and found not guilty of domestic violence. Because there was no claim that the children were in any way part of the altercation involving their parents and no evidence that the children were at any risk of harm, the man was found not guilty of child endangerment. Their presence in the home during the altercation – even if they were upset or confused by it – does not support a child endangerment conviction.
There is a movement across the country to allow more freedom for children to grow outside the helicopter supervision of parents. However, police do still overreach and charge otherwise great parents with child endangerment. But these charges are absolutely worth fighting and are often baseless.
It is important to contact an attorney who is knowledgeable about all possible defenses available to you including whether you took all necessary precautions to minimize risk of harm. If you have questions about child endangerment charges, we offer free consultations in Ohio.