First Degree Child Abuse in Michigan

In Michigan, First Degree Child Abuse is a very serious offense.  According to Michigan Compiled Law 750.136b(2) it carries a possible penalty of life in prison or any term of years.  There are 3 elements that the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt at trial for a conviction to occur:  (1) the Defendant, (2) knowingly or intentionally, (3) causes serious physical or mental harm to a child.  See People v Gould, 225 Mich App 79 (1997) and Michigan Compiled Law 750.136b(2).

The above referenced elements have specific legal definitions.  The phrase “knowingly or intentionally” requires the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Defendant intended to cause serious physical or mental harm to a child through the Defendant’s act, or that a Defendant knew that serious mental or physical harm would be caused by the Defendant’s act.   “[I]t must be shown that the Defendant intended to harm the child, not merely that the Defendant engaged in conduct that caused harm.” People v. Gould, 225 Mich App 79 (1997).

The terms “serious physical harm” and “serious mental harm” also have specific meanings that are defined by Michigan law.  According to Michigan Compiled Law 750.136b(1)(f) serious physical harm means any physical injury to a child that seriously impairs the child’s health or physical well-being, including, but not limited to, brain damage, a skull or bone fracture, subdural hemorrhage or hematoma, dislocation, sprain, internal injury, poisoning, burn or scald, or severe cut.   Michigan Compiled Law 750.136b(1)(g) defines serious  mental harm as an injury to the child’s mental condition or welfare that is not necessarily permanent.  The mental harm results in visibly demonstrable manifestations of a substantial disorder of thought or mood which significantly impairs judgment, behavior, capacity to recognize reality, or the ability to cope with the ordinary demands of life.  In Child Abuse First Degree trials the prosecution often tries to prove this element through the testimony of an expert witness (psychologist, psychiatrist, etc.).

In many instances alleged child abuse is not observed by a witness that testifies at trial.  Sometimes it is based upon circumstantial evidence and reasonable inferences that arise from the evidence.  See People v Lane, 308 Mich App 38  (2014).  The Defendant’s state of mind is often difficult to prove, and often inferences are drawn from the evidence to try and determine his or her state of mind at the time of the offense.   First degree child abuse requires the prosecution to establish, beyond a reasonable doubt not only that [the] defendant intended to commit the act, but also, that [the] defendant intended to cause serious physical harm or serious mental harm, or knew that serious physical harm or serious mental harm would be caused by [the defendant’s] act.

Sometimes the issue in child abuse case is the identity of the person who committed the alleged act.  Sometimes a child is injured, but the extent of the injury is not discovered until a later date.  Sometimes there are medical issues that exist that may appear on the surface to be child abuse, but upon closer examination are something else.  Sometimes these cases boil down to a manner of degree.

The only way to determine how to best defend a First Degree Child Abuse case is to hire an experienced lawyer.  First Degree Child abuse cases are complex and carry severe sentences if a conviction occurs.  For excellent legal representation contact attorney Daniel Hilf of Hilf & Hilf, PLC.

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