Want the short answer? Yes. Child abuse cases within this state can be charged at the federal level. In fact, there aren’t very many crimes that can’t be.
The vast majority of crimes can technically be tried at both levels, though thankfully most are only prosecuted at one of those levels. Moreover, often the feds prefer leaving matters in state hands when they can, so if you are accused of child abuse here, you will likely have to answer to the Minnesota state court.
However, federal officials always have the authority to pick up cases in their jurisdiction – matters of child abuse being one – and there are a number of scenarios that could make your case of special interest to them.
In this post we look at the the differences between state and federal child abuse, whether your case could be of special interest, and what next steps you should take to protect yourself.
Primary Differences Between State and Federal Child Abuse Charges
The primary differences in prosecuting child abuse cases at state and federal levels lie in how the crime is defined. While federal law covers child abuse under one sweeping definition, adults in Minnesota can be charged with one of two child abuse charges.
While our state defines “malicious punishment of a child” as acts specifically considered unreasonable or excessive in force or discipline to punish a child, “Neglect or endangerment” is a broader charge. Any of the following actions could be considered child neglect or endangerment:
- Intentional deprivation of care or items supporting a child’s physical, mental, or emotional health (including food, water, shelter, supervision, etc.)
- Placing a child in a high-risk situation for harm to their physical, mental, or emotional health
- Exposing children to an environment where people are manufacturing or selling drugs
- Failing to report or allowing neglect or abuse to continue with knowledge that crimes are taking place
Federal law combines both charges into one broad child abuse charge. The federal definition child abuse and neglect is:
“Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation,” or; “An act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.”
So, when is a child abuse case taken to a higher court?
When Minnesota Child Abuse Becomes a Federal Matter
There are generally three scenarios in which your state child abuse case may become of greater interest to federal authorities. If you happened to be involved in a situation with any of the following circumstances, chances are good that you will end up in federal court.
State Lines Were Crossed
Incidents of child abuse that occur only within Minnesota’s borders, will most likely be charged at the state level. Cases that involve crossing state or international borders, in contrast, are almost always charged at the federal level.
For example, when one divorced parent accuses their ex, who lives in another state, of abusing their child. Or if you are raising a child in Minnesota, but are accused of repeatedly abusing them while abroad. Each of these cases would likely be taken to federal court.
Most of the time, crossing state lines is the reason for federal involvement, but there are political and societal drivers that may press your case into the limelight as well.
High Priority and Special Interest Cases
Over the last 25 years, heightened societal awareness of how we treat children in this country has been a catalyst for tightening federal child abuse law. Simply put, people today are far more aware of the horrors of child abuse, which has pushed the federal criminal justice system to pay more attention to these types of crimes and work harder to eradicate them.
Additionally, when cases involve a larger number of victims or get widely covered by the media, these things also make it more likely that they will be taken up by the federal court system.
Involvement of Federal Agencies
Finally, although brushes with other federal agencies is a less common reason child abuse cases wind up up in federal court, it does happen.
In 2017, for example, one mother was charged with federal child abuse after reportedly starving her two young daughters when the abuse was discovered during a separate white collar crime investigation involving stealing and misusing federal benefits.
Could You Be Charged with Child Abuse at the Federal Level?
Situations like these are complicated, and every case is different. For example, you might not physically cross state or international lines, but if you communicated with the alleged victim over the internet, it’s quite possible you “virtually” did so without realizing it. You also have little control over whether or not your case garners enough media coverage that the federal courts believe they need to step in.
State or federal court, these types of charges are incredibly serious. Even mere allegations can be devastating, but if you are convicted, it will negatively impact every area of your life. Make sure you do what you can to prevent that from happening.
About the Author:
Christopher Keyser is a Minneapolis-based criminal and DWI defense attorney known for fighting aggressively for his clients and utilizing innovative tactics to get the most positive results. He has been featured in numerous media outlets due to the breadth and depth of his knowledge, and recognized as a Minnesota Super Lawyers Rising Star (2014–2015), a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013–2015), and a Top 40 Under 40 Attorney (2013–2015).