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Child Abuse Sentencing

I was arrested for child abuse; what punishment will I receive? Every defendant in every situation must ask this question. In the case of child abuse, there are several penalties a person might face, including jail or prison time.

In this blog, I will address your question more fully. I will look at the statutory penalties within the child abuse statute, and concentrate on the effect the Michigan Sentencing Guidelines may bring to your situation in calculating your minimum sentence.

Child Abuse 1st Degree [MCL 750.136b(2)]. A person is guilty of child abuse in the first degree if the person knowingly or intentionally causes serious physical harm or serious mental harm to a child. “Serious physical harm” is defined as “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. MCL 750.136b(1)(f). Child abuse in the first degree is a felony punishable by imprisonment for life or any term of years.

Although there is no mandatory minimum sentence within MCL 750.136b(2), there remains little doubt that a person convicted of Child Abuse 1st Degree would face significant prison time under the Michigan Sentencing Guidelines. The scoring of points for any of the below Offense Variables (OVs) — likely to happen in any Child Abuse 1st Degree sentencing —w ould likely result in a Sentencing Guideline recommendation of significant prison time:

♦(OV1) Aggravated use of a weapon

♦(OV2) Lethal use of a weapon

♦(OV3) Physical injury to the victim

♦(OV4) Psychological injury to the victim

♦(OV5) Psychological injury to the victim’s family

♦(OV7) Aggravated physical abuse

♦(OV8) Asportation or captivity of a victim

♦OV10) Exploitation of a vulnerable victim

As is the case with any Michigan Sentencing Guideline scoring, a judge would have to score the defendant’s Prior Record Variables (PFV’s). If a defendant has a poor criminal history (high PRVs), and scores high on his or her OVs, then a recommendation of a minimum sentence over ten or even twenty years may not be out of the question.

Child Abuse 2nd Degree [MCL 750.136b(3)]. A person is guilty of child abuse in the second degree if any of the following apply: (1) The person’s omission causes serious physical harm or serious mental harm to a child or if the person’s reckless act causes serious physical harm or serious mental harm to a child; (2) The person knowingly or intentionally commits an act likely to cause serious physical or mental harm to a child regardless of whether harm results; (3) The person knowingly or intentionally commits an act that is cruel to a child regardless of whether harm results; or (4) The person or a licensee, as licensee is defined in section 1 of 1973 PA 116, MCL 722.111, violates section 15(2) of 1973 PA 116, MCL 722.125. For a first-time offender, the maximum punishment for Child Abuse 2nd Degree is ten years. The maximum punishment for a defendant convicted of Child Abuse 2nd Degree with a prior child abuse conviction is twenty years.

The same scoring of OVs and PRVs applies to Child Abuse 2nd Degree as it does to Child Abuse 1st Degree. However, the maximum penalty for Child Abuse 2nd Degree places the defendant on a lower sentencing grid within the Michigan Sentencing Guidelines. The result is that even with the same scoring for Child Abuse 2nd Degree, the defendant would face significantly less prison time.

Child Abuse 3rd Degree [MCL 750.136b(5)]. A person is guilty of child abuse in the third degree if any of the following apply: (1) The person knowingly or intentionally causes physical harm to a child; (2) The person knowingly or intentionally commits an act that under the circumstances poses an unreasonable risk of harm or injury to a child, and the act results in physical harm to a child. “Physical harm” is defined as “any injury to a child’s physical condition.” MCK 750.136b(1)(e). The maximum punishment for Child Abuse 3rd Degree for a first offense is two years, and for a subsequent conviction five years in prison.

Again, the same categories of PRVs and OVs used for Child Abuse 1st and 2nd Degrees apply here. However, the scoring of the variables will likely be fewer points and, in the case of a first-time offender, recommend no prison time. In spite that, the nature of the offense will frequently cause the judge to issue a sentence that includes county jail time.

Child Abuse 4th Degree [MCL 750.136b(7)]. A person is guilty of child abuse in the fourth degree if any of the following apply: (1) The person’s omission or reckless act causes physical harm to a child; (2) The person knowingly or intentionally commits an act that under the circumstances poses an unreasonable risk of harm or injury to a child, regardless of whether physical harm results. Child Abuse 4th Degree is a misdemeanor. The maximum punishment for a first-time offender is imprisonment of up to one year, and for a subsequent conviction, the charge increases to a felony with imprisonment not to exceed two years in prison.

The Michigan Sentencing Guidelines would not apply to a first-time offender because he or she would only be guilty of a misdemeanor and be sentenced in District Court. Generally, a person convicted as a first-time offender of Child Abuse 4th Degree would not be facing significant incarceration. However, if a defendant was a repeat offender for Child Abuse 4th Degree, then he or she would be scored under the Michigan Sentencing Guidelines before being sentenced and could face several months behind bars.

Summary. The abuse of children is one taken very seriously under Michigan Law. If you face a charge relating to child abuse, then factors such as your prior record, if any, and the conduct forming the basis of your conviction will be considered in crafting an appropriate sentence. Unfortunately, many of the same behaviors contemplated by the child abuse statute are repeated within the Michigan Sentencing Guidelines. The net effect is that if you are convicted of a serious child abuse charge, such as 1st or 2nd Degree, or have a poor criminal history, then you may very well be looking at a significant prison sentence. There are many defenses and arguments that can significantly reduce the amount of prison time you receive for a child abuse conviction. Proper understanding and application of the Michigan Sentencing Guidelines can substantially reduce the actual sentence you receive. To understand your rights and prison exposure, you must speak with a competent attorney. Don’t wait — call Mark Satawa for your no obligation initial consultation.

Mark Satawa

Mark Satawa is a criminal defense attorney specialized in forensic DNA,
sex crimes, child abuse, shaken baby, medical child abuse, white collar,
and federal crimes.