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The National Trial Lawyers
Greater Lowell Bar Association

Recklessly Permitting Bodily Injury to a Child

Recklessly permitting bodily injury to a child is a serious crime that is punishable with a state prison sentence.

There are two theories of prosecution under Massachusetts law.

  1. A defendant is guilty if he or she wantonly or recklessly permits bodily injury to a child who is under his or her care and custody; or
  2. A defendant is guilty if he or she wantonly or recklessly permits another person to commit an assault and battery upon a child in his or her care and custody, resulting in bodily injury to the child.

There are different penalties depending on the seriousness of the injury to the child. A defendant who allows substantial bodily injury to a child, which includes substantial risk of death, permanent disfigurement, or protracted impairment or loss of function of a limb or organ, can be punished by a state prison sentence. A defendant who allows bodily injury to a child, which includes a fractured bone, an injury to an internal organ, or a subdural hematoma, can be punished only by a sentence to the House of Correction.

Prosecutors often charge this crime when a baby or small child is seriously injured and nobody knows exactly what happened. When a baby shows up at the hospital with multiple broken bones, serious burns, or significant internal injuries, and there is not a good explanation for the injuries, the police often charge the caretakers with recklessly permitting bodily injury to that child. How does the Commonwealth prove its case if there are no witnesses? It’s entirely circumstantial. The prosecutor will present evidence that the child was not injured before being taken into custody by the defendant. The prosecutor will attempt to establish a timeline such that the defendant was the only person in a position to allow the injury to happen. And finally, the prosecutor will present evidence, usually in the form of expert testimony from a doctor, that the injuries could not have happened by accident.

In defending these cases, Attorney Spring attempts to rebut the Commonwealth’s evidence. The defense will attempt to establish, often with the aid of an expert medical witness, that the timing of the child’s injuries cannot be determined. Further, people other than the defendant had custody of the baby during the time period when the injuries occurred. Finally, any injury that was suffered by the baby could have been caused by some accidental act by the defendant. Many of these cases involve the introduction of expert witnesses (for both the Commonwealth and the defendant), so if you are charged with this crime, it is important that you immediately hire a criminal defense attorney to help you identify the type of expert that will be needed to aid your defense.

Child Endangerment While Operating Under the Influence

Recent reforms to Massachusetts drunken driving laws created a new crime for people who operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol when there is a child 14 years old or younger who is a passenger in the vehicle. A conviction under this statute can result in a jail sentence. The defense to this charge is almost always that the defendant was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and therefore has not endangered the minor passenger.

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