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Child Endangerment Law in Washington State

All states recognize that an adult who has the responsibility to care for a child also has a legal responsibility to make sure that child is protected from unreasonable danger. When an adult responsible for the care of a child endangers the health or life of that child through the adult's recklessness, negligence, or indifference, they have committed “child endangerment.” Some states have made child endangerment a separate offense, while others punish child endangerment under existing child abuse statutes.

Many things may be considered child endangerment. Washington State has criminalized a subset of these activities under Chapter 9A.42 of the Revised Code as “criminal mistreatment” or “abandonment” of children and other dependent persons (e.g., frail elder and vulnerable adults). However, there are other prohibited activities related to the care and protection of children scattered throughout the code. This will explain Washington's criminal mistreatment and abandonment statutes, as well as highlight a number of additional statutes that criminalize activities that fall under the general definition of child endangerment.

Criminal Mistreatment

Washington State holds a number of adults responsible for the health and welfare of children, including:

  • The child's parents;
  • Persons who have assumed responsibility for ensuring a child has access to the “basic necessities of life” like food, water, shelter, and clothing; and
  • Adults entrusted with the physical custody of a child (for example: a daycare provider).
  • Leaving children unattended in a car with the motor running (see RCW 46.61.685);
  • Leaving children unattended in a parked car (see RCW 9.91.060);
  • Driving while intoxicated with a child in the vehicle (see RCW 46.61.507);
  • Allowing a child to be exposed to methamphetamine or other related controlled substances (see RCW 9A.42.100);
  • Leaving a child in the care of a sex offender (see RCW 9A.42.110);
  • Furnishing liquor to minors (see RCW 66.44.270); and
  • Using unreasonable force to discipline or restrain a child (see RCW 9A.16.100).

If any of these individuals recklessly cause “great bodily harm” to a child by withholding food, water, shelter, or clothing from the child, they can be charged with criminal mistreatment in the first degree. A person acts “recklessly” when he or she consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk in a way that grossly deviates from how a reasonable person would act. RCW 9A.42.010(2)(c) further defines “great bodily harm” as any bodily injury that creates a high probability of death, causes serious and permanent disfigurement, or causes a long-lasting loss of function of any body part. Criminal mistreatment in the first degree is a class B felony and is punishable by imprisonment of up to ten years and a $20,000 fine.

Criminal mistreatment in the first degree is the most serious of this type of child endangerment charge, but it is not the only potential crime an adult entrusted with the health and safety of a child can face under Washington's criminal mistreatment statute.

In addition, a person can be charged with Criminal mistreatment in the second degree: if a reckless action of the responsible adult either (a) creates an imminent and substantial risk of death or great bodily harm to the child, or (b) causes the child to receive a temporary but substantial bodily injury, by withholding food, water, shelter, clothing, or medically necessary health care. Criminal mistreatment in the second degree is a class C felony and is punishable by imprisonment of up to five years and a $10,000 fine.

Criminal mistreatment in the third degree: if the criminal negligence of the responsible adult either (a) creates an imminent and substantial risk of death or great bodily harm to the child, or (b) causes the child to receive a temporary but substantial bodily injury, by withholding food, water, shelter, clothing, or medically necessary health care. A person acts negligently when they fail to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk. Criminal mistreatment in the third degree is a gross misdemeanor and is punishable by imprisonment of up to one year and a $5,000 fine.

Criminal mistreatment in the fourth degree: if the criminal negligence of the responsible adult either (a) creates an imminent and substantial risk of bodily injury to the child, or (b) causes bodily injury or extreme emotional distress to the child, by withholding food, water, shelter, clothing, or medically necessary health care. Criminal mistreatment in the fourth degree is a misdemeanor and is punishable by imprisonment of up to 90 days and a $1,000 fine.

Abandonment

In addition to holding adults liable for endangering a child by withholding the basic necessities of life, Washington State holds a responsible adult liable for serious bodily harm to or death of the child if he or she abandons a child. “Abandons” is defined by RCW 9A.42.010(7) as leaving a child without the means or ability to obtain food, water, shelter, clothing, or medically necessary health care. Depending on the injury suffered by the child, charges for abandonment range from a class B felony (abandonment in the first degree), to a class C felony (abandonment in the second degree), down to a gross misdemeanor (abandonment in the third degree).

“Let My Extensive Experience as a Former Prosecutor Work For You.”

Washington State takes child endangerment very seriously and there are a host of potential criminal charges that apply when a child has been seriously injured while under the care of an adult. If you or a loved one faces charges of child endangerment, contact the Law Offices of Steve Karimi today. Experienced criminal defense attorney Steve Karimi is dedicated to protecting your constitutional rights and he will take all measures necessary to fight for your legal rights and to advocate for your best interests. As a former prosecutor, he understands the potential charges you could face and will use his experience to achieve the best possible resolution for you. Contact the Law Office of Steve Karimi today at 206-621-8777 to schedule a free and confidential initial consultation. After normal business hours, you can contact us using our 24-hour call service at 206-660-6200.

Contact Us

If you were arrested or a loved one has been charged with a crime in Seattle or surrounding areas of Washington State, the Law Offices of Steve Karimi can help. Call 206-621-8777 during regular business hours or 206-660-6200 24 hours a day for a free consultation.

Seattle Defense Lawyer

Named a "rising star" in criminal defense by Washington Law and Politics magazine, Mr. Karimi is a former prosecutor for King County who uses his insight into prosecution strategies to protect his clients' rights in criminal court.