Do I Have To Report Child Abuse In Florida?
If a person observes or becomes aware of a burglary being committed in Brevard County, Florida, that person has no legal duty to report the burglary to the Brevard County Sheriff’s Department or any agency of the State of Florida. The same is true for most crimes. However, crimes involving children are different.
Mandatory Reporting Of Crimes Against Children In Florida
Florida Statute 39.201 requires any person who knows or has reasonable cause to suspect a child is being abused or neglected to report the abuse or neglect to the Florida Department of Children and Families. The abuse can be physical or mental and includes neglecting or abandoning a child.
F.S. 39.201(1)(a)(b) and (c) all use the phrase, “reasonable cause to suspect” as in if you have reasonable cause to suspect abuse, it must be reported. The statute does not define, “reasonable cause to suspect”. The phrase is vague and hard to define. As of this writing no Florida court has defined the phrase in the context of child abuse. In other types of cases the appellate courts have provided a definition. In Faunce v. State, 884 So. 2d 504 (Fla. 1st DCA 2004), which is a criminal case, the court explained a person would have reasonable suspicion if they knew of specific facts that could be articulated supporting a belief that a crime had occurred. That definition is more than a little circular. Some examples may help.
Examples Of Suspected Child Abuse
Bob has known Bill for twenty years. Bill tells Bob that he saw Fred hit his child hard ten times with a broom handle and the child was screaming and bleeding. Bill has always been truthful. Bob knows Fred and knows Fred has quite a temper. In the example Bob would have reasonable cause to suspect child abuse.
Caroline and her child are playing at a park. Caroline sees a child she does not know with what appears to be belt marks across her legs and back. The skin is broken and there is dark bruising. Caroline should report the abuse. There is reasonable cause to suspect child abuse.
Sometimes the facts are not so clear. Peggy sees a woman who looks mad in a grocery store tightly holding a child’s hand. The child looks sad and scared. Peggy’s intuition tells her something is very wrong. Peggy cannot put her suspicion into words. It is just a feeling. Peggy would not have a duty to report.
When someone is not sure if what they know is abuse or a reasonable suspicion of abuse, what should they do? In my opinion they should ignore the convoluted and vague legal standard and err on the side of protecting the child.
If Peggy from the above example reports the possible abuse she will be asked questions about what she has observed. Then it is in the hands of DCF’s central abuse hotline counselor. Provided she does not fall under one of several exceptions, Peggy does not have to give her name. Then DCF must decide to proceed with an investigation-or not. If Peggy has been truthful, and not fabricated or exaggerated her report, she will not get in any trouble.
Do I Have To Disclose My Name If I Report Child Abuse?
Under F.S. 39.201(1)(d) most people do not have to give their names when reporting child abuse or neglect to DCF’s central abuse hotline. In general health care workers, school employees, social workers, law enforcement and judges must give their names when reporting abuse.
Failing To Report Child Abuse Is A Crime
When the State of Florida says you must report child abuse it is not fooling around. Florida Statute 39.205 provides that if a person fails to report known or suspected child abuse or neglect that person commits a felony of the third degree punishable by up to five years in the Florida Department of Corrections and a five thousand dollar fine. The penalty also applies if a person tries to prevent someone from reporting child abuse. When it comes to child abuse, judges take those cases very seriously, including failure to report. The State Attorney for the 18th Judicial Circuit, which includes Brevard and Seminole Counties, has a special unit of dedicated prosecutors, to prosecute any case involving the abuse of a child. If you are charged with failing to report abuse of a child you should immediately call the experienced child abuse attorneys at Mario, Gunde, Peters, Rhoden & Kelley LLC.
Exceptions To Requirement To Report Child Abuse
Despite the language in F.S. 39.201, that every person must report child abuse or neglect Florida Statute 39.205(1) provides a judge can find that a person who is otherwise required to report was a victim of domestic violence or that other mitigating circumstances exist. Notice that this is a determination by a judge so the person would have already been arrested and brought before a judge. An experienced criminal defense attorney would raise these facts as a defense. While “victim of domestic violence”, is well defined, “other mitigating circumstances,” is not. A creative criminal defense attorney could use this statute to defend their client.
Charged With Failing To Report Child Abuse?
If you are charged with failure to report child abuse or neglect you should be aware there are many possible defenses. When initially being charged with failure to report child abuse you should keep your mouth shut. You will not be able to talk your way out of the charge. You should immediately call the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Mario, Gunde, Peters, Rhoden & Kelley.
Besides all the defenses that apply to cases in general a good defense is that a defendant did not know or suspect child abuse. Maybe a defendant saw bruises on a child. Maybe that child is exceptionally rambunctious and is always hurting themselves. If Joe says he told Fred about the abuse and Fred gets charged he can simply say Joe never told me any such thing. Maybe Joe has zero credibility. There are many possible defenses based on the facts. An aggressive and experienced criminal defense attorney knows to pick apart the facts. Line by line, word by word.
Filing A False Report Of Child Abuse
As Brevard County’s largest and most experienced criminal and family law firm we deal with false reports of child abuse or neglect on a regular basis. In child custody cases desperate and dishonest parents all too often make false reports of child abuse. They try to use DCF and law enforcement to help in their family law case. Florida Statute 39.205(7) makes false report of child abuse a crime. If DCF determines a report of child abuse is false the department shall, with the consent of the falsely accused, notify law enforcement. If convicted of falsely reporting child abuse the person is guilty of a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a five thousand dollar fine.
Hire An Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney
If you have been accused of a crime or think you may be accused of a crime call the experienced and aggressive criminal defense attorneys at Mario, Gunde, Peters, Rhoden & Kelley. We are based in Brevard County, Florida and serve all the State of Florida. We are happy to serve you if you live in Titusville, Melbourne, Palm Bay, Cocoa, Cocoa Beach or Merritt Island. Call today for a free consultation. Phones are answered 24/7.