Causing Injury to a Child in Texas: Can You Be Charged For Failing To Protect A Child?

Under section 22.04 of the Texas Penal Code, causing injury to a child (defined as someone fourteen or under), is a felony.  Many cases of causing injury to a child deal with a parent or caregiver striking or shaking a child, but what if the accused simply fails to protect a child?  Can that be a criminal offense? “The answer,” says Dallas criminal defense attorney John Helms is that “it can be, depending on the circumstances.”

In Texas, criminally causing injury to a child includes an “omission,” which means a failure to do something.  An omission that causes an injury to a child is a crime in Texas if: (1) the failure to do something was intentional, knowing, or reckless, and (2) the accused has assumed “care, custody, or control” of the child.  This means that it is not a crime to fail to act to protect a child if you do not have “care, custody, or control” over the child. But what does this mean?

According to section 22.04(d) of the Texas Penal Code, “the actor has assumed care, custody, or control if he has by act, words, or course of conduct acted so as to cause a reasonable person to conclude that he has accepted responsibility for protection, food, shelter, and medical care for a child.”  

This definition means that you can be responsible for a child even if you have not signed a contract that says you are responsible, and even if you have not specifically told someone you are responsible for the child in those words.  Just acting in a way that would cause a reasonable person to believe you are responsible is enough.

Examples of persons who may be responsible for a child for purposes of this criminal law can include parents, grandparents, babysitters, daycare owners and workers, and family members who assume that responsibility, even on a temporary basis.  All of these people can be charged with causing injury to a child in Texas if they intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly fail to act and this causes injury to a child.

Very often, the defense of injury to a child cases in Texas seeks to show that the accused did not act intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly.  These terms have legal meanings that should be analyzed by an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Applying these terms to the facts of an individual case is often complicated and imprecise.  This is why experience is necessary. Lots of lawyers can make an argument one way or the other, but only those with substantial experience trying cases like Dallas defense attorney John Helms can accurately predict how a local jury will view disputed evidence in a trial.  

If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime of child abuse or is facing criminal charges of causing injury to a child in Dallas, Fort Worth, McKinney, or Denton, Texas, contact an experienced North Texas criminal defense lawyer in Dallas to fight for your rights.  

Media Contact:

Attorney John Helms

T: (214) 666-8010