In Florida, the crime of child abuse is defined as the:
(a) Intentional infliction of physical or mental injury upon a child;
(b) An intentional act that could reasonably be expected to result in physical or mental injury to a child; or
(c) 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.
In the case of State of Florida v. Lanier, Ms. Lanier was an elementary school teacher who was charged with abusing two different children. The facts surrounding the supposed abuse of one of the children were as follows:
1. The child, who was four years old at the time of the incident, stepped on the foot of another child while on school property;
2. Lanier asked the child if he would like to be stepped on and then intentionally and forcefully stomped on the child's foot while he was wearing sneakers and standing on a concrete surface;
3. The child had no lasting injuries or bruises or any physical trauma requiring treatment;
4. After the child arrived home, his mother was unable to determine whether he had any injuries; and
5. Broward County School Board policy provided that corporal punishment should not be used under any circumstances.
The facts surrounding the supposed abuse of the second child were that:
1. The child, who suffered from attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder and autism or an autism-related disorder, was also four years old at the time of the incident;
2. Lanier knew that the child suffered from these disorders;
3. The child was misbehaving in the classroom so Lanier punished the child for disrupting nap time for other students by placing the child unrestrained in a chair a short distance outside the classroom;
4. Lanier could see the chair, which was located near a set of three steps, from where she was located inside her classroom;
5. Lanier pushed the chair towards the steps with her foot, and the child fell down the steps striking his head on some part of the stairway or ground and in the process injured his head and leg;
6. The child's injuries healed in a relatively short amount of time.
Lanier filed a motion to dismiss in which she argued that her actions did not constitute the crime of child abuse. Although you might think that stomping on the foot of a four-year-old child and pushing a chair using one's foot while a four-year-old child is sitting in it close to the top of a set of stairs is undoubtedly child abuse, you would be mistaken. Florida's Fourth District Court of Appeal agreed with Lanier that her case should be dismissed and in doing so stated:
"There was no intentional act that could 'reasonably be expected to result in physical or mental injury to a child' under [the child-abuse statute]. The foot 'stomp' caused no bruises, no physical trauma, and required no treatment; such an act could not 'reasonably be expected' to cause physical injury. Similarly, pushing a chair 'towards' steps, or positioning a chair near steps, is very different from pushing a chair down the steps. Sitting near steps, even for a child with [attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder], is not an activity that could reasonably be expected to result in physical injury to the child."
If you have been charged with child abuse, it is very important that you and your lawyer determine whether your alleged actions actually violate the child-abuse statute. Like Ms. Lanier, you too may be able to have your case dismissed.