In my last article, I began a discussion of the crime of cruelty to children. I began by defining and explaining cruelty to children in the first degree. This week I would like to do the same for cruelty to children in the second degree.

O.C.G.A. § 16-5-70(b) states that any person commits cruelty to children in the second degree when that person with criminal negligence causes a child under the age of 18 cruel or excessive physical or mental pain. A person convicted of second degree cruelty shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one year nor more than ten years.

I first want the reader to see the very small difference between first degree and second degree cruelty. First degree requires that a person “maliciously” cause cruel and excessive mental or physical pain to a child. On the other hand, second degree merely requires that the person act with “criminal negligence” in causing the injuries to the child. Malice implies that the person acted in a willful and wanton manner in committing an act toward a child or that the person had an actual intention to cause a child cruel and excessive mental or physical pain. Criminal negligence, on the other hand, does not require some nefarious intent that a child suffer pain. While the statute gives no specific definition, criminal negligence is best explained as types of conduct that grossly deviate from normal, reasonable standards of an ordinary person or some form of indifference for the safety of a child.

One of the most common types of cases prosecuted as cruelty to children in the second degree is the situation where a parent begins living with an abusive boyfriend or girlfriend. Where this becomes criminal is where the parent sits idly by and allows the new boyfriend or girlfriend to abuse the child without reporting said abuse. The parent did not directly abuse the child, but their conduct was negligent in not reporting the abuse and protecting the child. Another example of cruelty to children in the second occurs when a parent or guardian allows a child to reside in a home that has patently unhealthy, filthy and dangerous conditions. These conditions could range from the home lacking a proper amount of food to the home being filled with urine and feces. The concept of criminal negligence when it comes to the care of children can be quite broad.

As you can see, the law is very broadly drafted for the protection of children. Cruelty to children in the second degree is one example of this. If you or someone you know is facing this very serious offense, then please contact a criminal defense attorney for an analysis of the case.

Jeffrey E. Johnston is a local attorney licensed to practice in Georgia. His practice focuses primarily on Criminal Defense and Personal Injury law. His law firm can be reached at (706) 869-8171 or by completing the contact form.