Colorado Revised Statutes § 18-6-401 provides that a person commits child abuse if such person:
- causes an injury to a child's life or health, or
- permits a child to be unreasonably placed in a situation that poses a threat of injury to the child's life or health, or
- engages in a continued pattern of conduct that results in malnourishment, lack of proper medical care, cruel punishment, mistreatment, or
- an accumulation of injuries that ultimately results in the death of a child or serious bodily injury to a child.
Note that much of what can constitute criminal child abuse are acts of neglect and negligence rather than intentional or physical acts of violence. Allowing a child in your care to be in a situation that poses a threat to the child, even without any intent to cause harm, and even if no injury occurs, can still result in child abuse charges. Things like leaving a child unsupervised for an extended period of time or in a hot car, driving under the influence of alcohol with a child in the car, or allowing child to be in the presence of violence, drugs, or other situations which would be clearly unreasonable can all result in child abuse charges.
Additionally, failing to meet basic parental responsibilities – food, clothing, shelter, education, medical care, hygiene – can be child abuse.
Words and threats can be a basis for child abuse charges, as the law seeks to protect the emotional and psychological health of children as well as their physical well-being. Repeated threats by a person of harm or death to a child or to a significant person in the child’s life, made in the presence of the child, are a specific basis for child abuse charges under Colorado law.
When it comes to parental discipline of a child - including corporal punishment such as spanking – the reasonableness of such discipline under the circumstances will determine whether or not the act of discipline constituted child abuse. Under Colorado law, a parent or guardian can raise an affirmative defense to child abuse charges that the allegedly abusive conduct involved “acts that could be construed to be a reasonable exercise of parental discipline.” In determining what is “reasonable,” factors such as the child’s age, the extent of any physical harm, the proportionality of the punishment to the misbehavior, and the totality of the circumstances will be considered. It is a very fact-specific analysis, and there is no hard and fast rule as to when parental discipline crosses the line into child abuse.
Regardless of the alleged conduct involved, child abuse in Colorado is a serious criminal offense that the law, police, and prosecutors all aggressively seek to prevent and punish. If you have been accused of child abuse, it is absolutely essential that you retain an experienced Colorado criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.