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1st Degree Child Abuse: Everything You Need to Know

Blank Law, PC Team

1st Degree Child Abuse: Everything You Need to Know

Child abuse and neglect are very serious offenses under Michigan state law. Upon conviction, an offender will be guilty of a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the underlying circumstances, with penalties that can result in life in prison.

According to childhelp.org, a report of child abuse occurs every 10 seconds in America, with annual figures running into more than four million children. These statistics place America, among industrialized countries, with the highest child abuse records. Sadly, an average of five children die every day due to child abuse.

While child abuse is a sad reality, not all people accused of child abuse are guilty of the crime. Sometimes accusations of child abuse could result from relationships gone wrong with estranged partners using their children to settle scores with their ex-partners. At other times child abuse can result from an unanticipated event that could exhibit signs similar to child abuse.

If you are facing allegations of child abuse in Michigan, it is essential to have the best sex offender lawyers in Michigan by your side.


The Michigan Department of Human Services defines child abuse as harm or threatened harm to a minor’s health or welfare resulting from intentional conduct of a child’s parent, guardian caregiver, or any person responsible for the child’s well-being.

In the definition, conduct qualifying as child abuse is any conduct that results in physical or mental injury, sexual exploitation, or sexual abuse.

Under Michigan laws, child abuse is classified into four degrees:

  • First degree child abuse
  • Second degree child abuse
  • Third degree child abuse
  • Fourth degree child abuse

1st Degree Child Abuse

This guide focuses on first degree child abuse, and, from its definition, how it compares with the other degrees of child abuse, their penalties, and defenses.


According to Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.136b(2), if a person knowingly or intentionally causes serious bodily or mental harm to a minor, the person shall be guilty of child abuse in the first degree, upon conviction.

First degree child abuse is a felony offense carrying the severest form of penalties among all other degrees of child abuse offenses.

As used in this section of the law:

Child” refers to anyone aged 18 and below and is not emancipated by law.

Person” means a child’s parent, guardian, or any person entrusted with caring for the child, irrespective of the length of time a child is in their care.

Physical harm” means any injury inflicted on a child.

Serious physical harm” means physical injury inflicted on a child that causes serious impairment to the child’s health or physical well-being. Serious physical harm includes a skull or bone fracture, brain damage or injury, subdural hemorrhage or hematoma, sprain, dislocation, internal injury, poisoning, severe cut, burn or scald.

Serious mental harm” means an injury inflicted on a child’s mental health or welfare. It is not a requirement that the damages be permanent. The only requirement is that the injuries result in noticeable manifestations of substantial mood or thought disorder, significantly impairs judgment, and the ability to recognize reality or cope with everyday demands of life.


In a child abuse case, the burden of proof lies with the prosecution. That means, in order to get a conviction for a first degree child abuse offense, the prosecution must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that:

  • The suspect knowingly or intentionally inflicted physical injury on the child in question; and
  • The suspect knew that his/her actions would result in serious physical or mental harm to the child in question

Often, the prosecution depends on expert witnesses to substantiate the charges brought against the suspect. For instance, a doctor may testify that the child’s mental condition was harmed due to the suspect’s actions. The prosecution does not necessarily have to depend on expert witnesses. Sometimes circumstantial evidence or reasonable inferences arising from the evidence are enough to prove physical injury or mental harm.


First degree child abuse is the severest form of child abuse and carries harsh penalties under Michigan law.

If you are being investigated or charged with any type of child abuse charge in Michigan, it is imperative that you get a lawyer, irrespective of the offense’s degree.

Upon a conviction with first degree child abuse, an offender will be guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for any term of years. This means a judge can sentence a defendant to as much as life in prison, depending on the prevailing circumstances. The same sentencing guidelines apply to repeat offenders.


Michigan law classifies child abuse into four degrees, first degree child abuse, second degree child abuse, third degree child abuse, and fourth degree child abuse.

Below is a brief overview of other forms of child abuse and how they compare or differ from first degree child abuse:


Fourth degree child abuse is the least severe of all child abuse offenses and carries the least severe form of punishment.

According to Michigan law, one is guilty of child abuse in the 4th degree if:

  • The person’s reckless act or omission results in a child’s physical harm; and
  • The person knowingly or intentionally commits an act that, under the prevailing circumstances, poses an unreasonable risk of injury to a child, whether physical harm results from the conduct or not.

Fourth degree child abuse differs from child abuse in the first degree in that there is no requirement for physical harm to occur.

Upon a conviction with the offense, the accused will be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by not more than one year imprisonment, or a felony punishable by up to two years for a second or subsequent offense.


Under Michigan law, an accused person will be guilty of third degree child abuse if the following factors apply:

  • The person inflicts intentional and willful physical harm to a child; and
  • The person knowingly or intentionally commits an act that, under the prevailing circumstances, would place a child under an unreasonable risk of injury and that the child suffers physical harm as a result of the person’s conduct.

Third degree child abuse differs from a first degree in that it does not have the element of serious physical harm. On the other hand, the two offenses share a similarity in that they involve intentional harm.

Upon a conviction with third degree child abuse, the offender will be guilty of a felony punishable by not more than two years in prison for a first-time offender, and not more than five years for a repeat offender.


Under Michigan law, second degree child abuse is the second most serious abuse of a minor offense.

A person will be guilty of second degree child abuse under Michigan law if any of the following apply:

  • The person’s omission results in serious physical or serious mental harm to a minor, or their reckless act results in serious physical injury or mental harm.
  • The person intentionally or knowingly commits a cruel act to a child, regardless of whether they cause harm or not.

Second degree child abuse differs from first degree child abuse in that the element of causing intentional harm is not present. Secondly, second degree child abuse differs from first degree child abuse in that it involves cruelty and is not dependent on the occurrence of harm.

Upon a conviction with second degree child abuse, an offender will be guilty of a felony punishable imprisonment of not more than 10 years for a first-time offender.It’s up to 20 years, however, for an offender with prior convictions of second degree child abuse.


A repeat offender can only be sentenced as a repeat offender if the prosecution brings their prior conviction to the judge’s attention. The judge then determines prior convictions at a separate hearing, without the jury.

The prosecution typically relies on the following items as evidence to prove prior convictions:

  • A copy of the judgment that resulted in a conviction
  • Prior trial transcripts
  • Pre-sentence report
  • The defendant’s report


Under Michigan law, certain groups of people are designated as mandatory reporters of suspected abuse in children.

What is a mandatory reporter you ask? These groups of people include all licensed workers in the healthcare sector, all classes of social workers, law enforcement officers, any person working in the education sector, and clergy members.

When reporting, these groups of people are obligated to follow reporting guidelines as stipulated under Mich. Comp. Laws § 722.623. Under this section of the law, failure of any of the persons bound by law to report suspected cases of child abuse constitutes a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of 93 days in prison or a fine not exceeding $100.


Not all accusations of child abuse are true. It is not unusual for persons to face fabricated child abuse accusations.

Under Michigan laws, it is a criminal offense to file a false child abuse report. Upon a conviction with this offense, the offender will be sentenced as follows:

  • If the falsely reported child abuse would constitute a misdemeanor or would not constitute an offense, if the allegations were true, the offender will be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of 93 days in prison or a fine not exceeding $100.
  • If the falsely reported offense would constitute a felony, if it were true, the offender will be guilty of a felony, attracting a penalty of up to four years or a fine not exceeding $2,000.


If you are under investigation for child abuse or are facing charges of child abuse in Michigan, a lot could be a stake. The only sure way of redeeming yourself will be by hiring an aggressive attorney to fight against your charges.

The U.S. constitution guarantees every citizen a right to legal representation. You don’t want to take risks with a lawyer whose track record you can’t verify. The best idea is to get yourself a lawyer with a verifiable track record.

Below are some defense strategies that your attorney could explore for your child abuse case:


It would be an affirmative defense to charges of child abuse, under this section of the law, if the defendant’s actions resulting in physical harm to a child were in reasonable response to an act of domestic violence, in the light of the circumstances existing at the time of the said conduct. With that said, the burden of proof of domestic violence lies with the defendant.


False allegations are pretty common, especially in dysfunctional homes. Sometimes, couples going through a divorce or separation can falsely accuse the other party of child abuse to influence custody verdicts or as a way of getting back at their ex-spouse or partner.

If your child abuse allegations result from such circumstances, your lawyer can explore false accusations as a viable defense strategy.


Some reports of child abuse are based on visible evidence of physical harm to a child. While some specific injuries or a child’s physical condition could be characteristic of child abuse, there is a possibility that the injuries resulted from something else.

If you are sure that the injuries in question resulted from something else other than intentional physical harm, your attorney can help you prove your innocence using evidence.


Under some circumstances, a child may have been abused, but the accused person is wrongfully accused. Under such circumstances, your defense team can, through evidence, help you prove that while the abuse is a fact that cannot be disputed, you are not the perpetrator of the abuse.


Many crimes can be prosecuted in a federal or state court. With that said, the federal government acts as an overseer in cases involving the abuse of a minor, but doesn’t necessarily prosecute child abuse crimes.

Therefore, if you face federal child abuse offenses, you will likely be charged in a state court. However, the court must prosecute following guidelines set by the federal court system.


According to the Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), a recent act or omission by a parent, guardian, or caretaker, whether harm results in serious physical or mental harm, death, sexual abuse, child exploitation, or an act or lack thereof resulting in imminent risk of serious harm to a child constitutes child abuse.

Under CAPTA, the federal government sets minimum child welfare standards that every state must adopt to create child abuse laws. However, according to the Children’s Advocacy Institute, states don’t meet those standards. This means that any person accused of abuse of a minor will face prosecution under their respective state law.


When facing child abuse charges, you want to be sure that you have the best lawyer on your side. Having the right attorney means hiring a professional with experience in handling similar cases and has a proven track record of getting favorable outcomes.

Nicole Blank Beker is a Michigan-based criminal defense attorney with over two decades of law practice. Prior to going back to being a defense attorney, Nicole was the Cheif of the Child Abuse Unit, meaning she knows almost everything there is to know about child abuse charges.

Don’t let false or wrongful accusations of child abuse or related criminal sexual conduct change the course of your life. Contact Blank Law, PC at (248) 515-6583 or reach out to us online for a free case evaluation and have Nicole Blank Becker on your side.

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