Definition of Child Abuse

In Florida, the crime of child abuse is defined as:

  • The intentional infliction of physical or mental injury upon a child; or
  • An intentional act that could reasonably be expected to result in physical or mental injury to a child; or
  • Active encouragement of any person to commit an act that results or could reasonably be expected to result in physical or mental injury to a child.
  • See § 827.03(1)(b), Fla. Stat.

Required Proof

To prove the crime of “child abuse” at trial, the State must establish two factual elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. The defendant willfully abused the victim by: (a) intentionally inflicting physical/mental injury; (b) committing an intentional act reasonably expected to result in physical/mental injury; or (c) encouraging another person to commit an act that could reasonably be expected to result in physical mental injury to the victim;  and
  2. The alleged victim was under the age of 18 years.

Meaning of ‘Mental Injury’

“Mental injury” means injury to the intellectual or psychological capacity of a child as evidenced by an impairment in the ability of the child to function within the normal range behavior.

Aggravated Child Abuse

In Florida, a child abuse offense may be upgraded to “aggravated child abuse” where the defendant:

  • Commits an “aggravated battery” on a child; or
  • Willfully tortures, maliciously punishes, or willfully and unlawfully cages a child; or
  • Knowingly or willfully abuses a child and in so doing causes great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement to the child.

Penalties for Child Abuse

All child abuse crimes in Florida are felonies, and carry varying penalties, depending on the nature of the abuse and the extent of bodily harm.

Aggravated Child Abuse

Aggravated Child Abuse is a first degree felony, punishable by up to thirty years in prison and a $10,000.00 fine.

Abuse with Great Bodily Harm

Where child abuse causes great bodily harm, the offense is a second degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

No Great Bodily Harm

Child Abuse not causing great bodily harm is classified as a 3rd degree felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison or 5 years probation.


There are numerous defenses available to contest a charge of child abuse, including:

  • Factual disputes as to the perpetrator of the alleged abuse;
  • Insufficient evidence that the defendant committed abuse;
  • Defendant’s acts were not intentional;
  • The Defendant did not act in a manner that could reasonably be expected to cause physical or mental injury;
  • Accidents and mere negligence;
  • False accusations;
  • Self-defense (cases involving teenage victims);
  • Defense of others;
  • Defense of property.

Parental Privilege Defense

Under Florida law, “parental privilege” is an affirmative defense that, in appropriate cases, may shield a defendant from criminal liability for child abuse.

Parental privilege has been defined as the “right of a parent, or one standing in loco parentis, to moderately chastise for correction a child under his or her control and authority.” Raford v. State, 828 So. 2d 1012, 1020 (Fla., 2002).

In practical terms, this means that parents have a right to administer “reasonable” or “nonexcessive” corporal punishment, i.e., “a typical spanking,” without committing a crime. Raford, 828 So. 2d at 1020.

Parental privilege does not confer parental immunity for any form of alleged child abuse. It merely provides a defense in a prosecution for simple child abuse where a defendant can credibly assert that his or her actions fell within the bounds of reasonable child discipline. Nixon v. State, 773 So.2d 1213 (Fla. 1st DCA 2000); Brown v. State, 802 So. 2d 434, 436 (Fla. 4th DCA 2001).

Contact an Attorney

If you have been accused of Child Abuse in Jacksonville or the surrounding counties of Northeast Florida, contact Hussein & Webber, PL for a free consultation.