Cruelty to Children in D.C.

It is against the law in Washington, D.C. to mistreat a child under 18 years of age or to engage in conduct which creates a grave risk of bodily injury.  D.C. Criminal Code § 22-1101.

Cruelty to Children in the First Degree

In order to secure a conviction for First Degree Cruelty to Children in Washington, D.C., the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt (1) that the defendant tortured, beat, or willfully maltreated a child under the age of 18 years old or engaged in conduct which created a grave risk of bodily injury to a children; (2) that the defendant did so intentionally, knowingly or recklessly; and (3) that the child sustained injury as a result of the defendant’s conduct.

“Intentionally” is defined as having acted voluntarily and on purpose, not by mistake or accident.  “Recklessly” means that the defendant was aware of and disregarded the grave risk of bodily harm posed by his/her conduct.

It is an affirmative defense that the conduct in question was the result of the defendant using a reasonable amount of force to discipline the child.  Martin v. United States, 452 A.2d 360 (D.C. 1982).  Once the defendant has raised parental discipline as a defense, the burden shifts to the government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant’s conduct was not so justified.  

The injury in question can be the infliction of mental or emotional pain or suffering upon a child; it does not need to be physical injury.  Speaks v. United States, 959 A.2d 712 (D.C. 2008).

The offensive conduct is defined as the grave risk of bodily harm; it is not the risk of grave bodily harm.  Lee v. United States, 831 A.2d 378 (D.C. 2003).

The penalty for a conviction for Cruelty to Children in the First Degree is a fine of not more than $10,000 and/or imprisonment for up to 15 years. 

Cruelty to Children in the Second Degree

Second Degree Cruelty to Children is defined as:  (1) maltreating or engaging in conduct that created a grave risk of bodily harm to a child under the age of 18 years old; and (2) doing so intentionally or recklessly.  As with Cruelty to Children in the First Degree, the government must also prove that the defendant’s conduct was not justified by the use of reasonable parental discipline. 

Cruelty to Children in the Second Degree carries a fine of up to $10,000 and/or imprisonment for up to 10 years.  

Attempted Cruelty to Children in the Second Degree

Because the defendant’s right to a jury trial applies only to offenses with a maximum penalty of six months of incarceration, this offense is often charged as Attempted Second Degree Cruelty to Children.  This deprives the defendant of a jury trial.  The maximum sentence for this offense is 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.