Two parents were charged with child neglect in Myrtle Beach after their four-year old son shot himself in the head over the weekend.
According to the police, the mom’s loaded .38 was in her purse. They were in the next room in their hotel suite when they heard the shot…
The child survived but was in critical care at Grand Strand Regional over the weekend. Both parents were released on a personal recognizance bond, but they now have multiple roll call dates in General Sessions Court in Conway, S.C., an open DSS investigation, and they are facing 10 years in prison on felony charges for child neglect.
When does harm to a child become a criminal matter? Should parents be punished or separated from their children for a terrible mistake that is not likely to be repeated?
What is Child Abuse and Neglect in SC?
Although there are several SC crimes that would cover harm to children, it is obvious that these parents did not intend to hurt their child. Which is why they are charged with neglect and not abuse or assault. SC’s child neglect statute covers situations where a parent, guardian, or any person who has custody of a child:
- Places the child at unreasonable risk of harm affecting their life, mental health, or safety;
- Unlawfully and maliciously causes bodily harm to a child that endangers their life or health; or
- Abandons a child.
The first section, placing a child at risk of harm, likely applies in this situation – although the parents did not intend to hurt the child, leaving a loaded firearm within reach of a child places the child at unreasonable risk of harm.
What Other Crimes Cover Harm to Children in SC?
Other criminal charges that may apply when a child is hurt include:
Cruelty to children: SC Code Section 65-5-80 is a 30-day misdemeanor offense that covers conduct where a parent, guardian, or person with custody of a child “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.”
Infliction of great bodily injury on a child: S.C. Code Section 16-3-95 covers two situations.
First, inflicting great bodily injury on a child carries up to 20 years in prison – it does not matter if the defendant is a parent, guardian, or stranger. Second, allowing a person to inflict great bodily injury on a child if you are the parent, guardian, or other person responsible for a child’s welfare carries up to five years in prison.
Homicide by child abuse: S.C. Code Section 16-3-85 makes it a crime to 1) cause the death of a child; 2) under the age of 11; 3) while committing child abuse or neglect; 4) “under circumstances manifesting an extreme indifference to human life.” Homicide by child abuse in SC is punishable by no less than 20 years and up to life in prison.
Helping someone else to commit child abuse that results in the death of a child under the age of 11 is punishable by no less than 10 and up to 20 years in prison.
Good Parents Get Charged with Child Abuse and Neglect
According to the media reports, there is no reason to believe these are bad parents – they both have jobs and the courtroom was full of family members who vouched for them at their bond hearing.
The Court gave each of them a personal recognizance bond – he released them on their promise to return, without paying a bond, and clearly did not believe they were a threat to the community or a flight risk.
South Carolina’s child neglect laws cast a wide net that often snares parents who made a simple mistake that most likely will never be repeated.
Sometimes, it snares parents who are having a rough time and need temporary help. Contrary to what many people believe, child neglect laws rarely snag parents who are incapable of caring for children and whose children need to be removed from them permanently.
Unfortunately, every day children are killed by guns in the United States, and many are unintentional shootings when children find unattended and unlocked firearms.
Whether or not you agree that it is a good idea to keep or carry a firearm, it is every American’s right to do so if they are not prohibited because of criminal convictions or mental illness. Most gun owners will agree with most non-gun owners that, especially when children are present, firearms must be locked and kept in a safe place.
Despite that obvious truth, people are careless, and people become complacent – it’s human nature. Should a careless, tragic mistake result in losing your freedom, a criminal record, or losing your child?
Other Common Situations that Result in Child Neglect Charges
Other common scenarios where otherwise good parents can end up in jail include:
- Leaving children at home alone when they are not old enough to care for themselves;
- Smoking pot while you are pregnant;
- Leaving children alone in a hot car; and
- Leaving children alone in a car even when the air conditioner is on.
The possible scenarios continue… The bottom line is that this could happen to anyone -unless they are 100% vigilant and responsible 100% of the time.
How many parents, upon reading some of these stories, will say, “But for the grace of God, there go I?”
What Can I Do if I’ve Been Charged with Child Abuse and Neglect in Myrtle Beach?
You may have defenses that can result in a dismissal or acquittal at trial. Even in cases where the state’s evidence is strong, depending on the circumstances and your prior record, you may be able to get your case dismissed in exchange for complying with a DSS treatment plan or completing a pretrial diversion program like PTI.
Talk to your defense attorney before you talk to police and, if possible, before you talk to DSS investigators – any statements that you make will be used against you and some statements may be taken out of context.
Maybe you are dealing with reasonable investigators who have children and who understand that good people make bad mistakes. Or, you may be dealing with “true believers” who think your children should go to another home while you live in prison… talk to your attorney first.
Child Abuse and Neglect Criminal Defense Attorneys in Myrtle Beach and Conway, SC
If you have been charged with child abuse and neglect in South Carolina, or if you are under investigation for child abuse and neglect, call the Myrtle Beach criminal defense lawyers at Coastal Law now at (843) 488-5000 or send us an email to set up a free, confidential consultation with a defense lawyer who cares.