What is the difference between child neglect, cruelty to children, and child endangerment in SC? 

There are several different ways that a person can be charged with harming a child in SC, and there is often confusion among laypersons, police investigators, and even attorneys and judges as to what each offense means. 

A conviction for harming a child can have serious consequences that could include prison time and irreparable damage to a person’s reputation and ability to find meaningful employment. For these reasons alone, it is critical that you get an experienced legal defense team on your side immediately if you have been charged with a child-related offense or if you believe you are under investigation for harming a child. 

Below, we will discuss the differences between child neglect, cruelty to children, and child endangerment in SC and what the potential penalties are for each offense. 

Child Neglect and Cruelty to Children Laws in SC

Child neglect and cruelty to children are two SC offenses that are often confused – each offense involves causing harm to a child and each offense contains broad, ambiguous language that can be interpreted to cover a wide range of possible conduct. 

The main difference that you need to know, however, is that child neglect, or “unlawful conduct toward a child,” is a felony that carries up to ten years in prison and is prosecuted in General Sessions Court. “Cruelty to children,” on the other hand, is a misdemeanor offense that carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and is usually prosecuted in the magistrate or municipal courts. 

What is Child Neglect in SC? 

SC Code Section 63-5-70 makes it a felony punishable by up to ten years for a parent, guardian, or other person who has custody of a child to “place the child at an unreasonable risk of harm,” to cause bodily harm to a child or to willfully abandon a child:

(A) It is unlawful for a person who has charge or custody of a child, or who is the parent or guardian of a child, or who is responsible for the welfare of a child as defined in Section 63-7-20 to:

(1) place the child at unreasonable risk of harm affecting the child’s life, physical or mental health, or safety;

(2) do or cause to be done unlawfully or maliciously any bodily harm to the child so that the life or health of the child is endangered or likely to be endangered; or

(3) wilfully abandon the child.

(B) A person who violates subsection (A) is guilty of a felony and for each offense, upon conviction, must be fined in the discretion of the court or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.

This covers a wide range of possible conduct, but it usually involves more serious threats to a child’s wellbeing. This could include:

  • Causing physical harm to a child;
  • Exposing a child to drug trafficking, drug use, or drug sales;
  • Allowing a child access to firearms; 
  • Leaving a young child unattended in a hot car;
  • Failing to seek medical attention for a child; or
  • Abandoning a child. 

What is Cruelty to Children in SC? 

“Cruelty to children” is child neglect’s misdemeanor cousin in SC – punishable by no more than 30 days in jail. 

SC Code Section 63-5-80 makes it a crime to “cruelly ill-treat,” deprive of “necessary sustenance or shelter,” or “inflict unnecessary pain or suffering upon a child.” As with child neglect, a person must be the parent, guardian, or have custody of the child at the time of the offense:

Whoever cruelly ill-treats, deprives of necessary sustenance or shelter, or inflicts unnecessary pain or suffering upon a child or causes the same to be done, whether the person is the parent or guardian or has charge or custody of the child, for every offense, is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, must be imprisoned not more than thirty days or fined not more than two hundred dollars, at the discretion of the magistrate.

What’s the difference between “child neglect” and “cruelty to children?” Although each offense has similar language that is subject to interpretation, cruelty to children usually involves less serious threats to a child’s wellbeing – which is reflected in the potential penalties. 

What is Child Endangerment in SC?

Child endangerment is another SC offense that provides for additional penalties if a person is convicted of either a DUI offense or failure to stop for a blue light if there is a child younger than 16 in the vehicle when the violation happens:

(A) A person eighteen years of age or older is guilty of child endangerment when:

(1) the person violates:

(a) Section 56-5-750 [failure to stop for a blue light];

(b) Section 56-5-2930 [driving under the influence/ DUI];

(c) Section 56-5-2933 [driving with an unlawful alcohol concentration/ DUAC]; or

(d) Section 56-5-2945 [felony DUI]; and

(2) the person has one or more passengers younger than sixteen years of age in the motor vehicle when the violation occurs.

If more than one passenger younger than sixteen years of age is in the vehicle when a violation occurs, the person may be charged with only one violation of this section.

A person must first be convicted of the underlying offense (DUI or failure to stop for blue light) before they can be convicted of child endangerment in SC. 

What are the Penalties for Child Endangerment in SC? 

The penalty for child endangerment depends on the maximum penalties for the underlying offense for which the person was convicted. 

If the person is fined for the underlying offense, the court can impose an additional fine up to one-half of the maximum fine for the underlying offense. If a person is given prison time for the underlying offense, the court can also impose an additional prison term of up to one-half of the maximum sentence for the underlying offense:

(B) Upon conviction, the person must be:

(1) fined not more than one-half of the maximum fine allowed for committing the violation in subsection (A)(1), when the person is fined for that offense;

(2) imprisoned not more than one-half of the maximum term of imprisonment allowed for committing the violation listed in subsection (A)(1), when the person is imprisoned for the offense; or

(3) fined and imprisoned as prescribed in items (1) and (2) when the person is fined and imprisoned for the offense.

(C) No portion of the penalty assessed pursuant to subsection (B) may be suspended or revoked and probation may not be awarded.

The penalties for child endangerment are in addition to the penalties a person receives for the underlying offense, and, in addition to fines and jail times, may include a license suspension, ADSAP, and an ignition interlock device requirement. 

Myrtle Beach Criminal Defense Lawyers

If you have been charged with child neglect, cruelty to children, or child endangerment in SC, contact the South Carolina criminal defense lawyers at Coastal Law now at (843) 488-5000 to find out how we can help. You can also fill out our online form to set up a free consultation.

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