Child Endangerment; What Is It Really?

When someone thinks of a parent or guardian committing child endangerment, they usually think of a parent beating or starving their child to the point where serious injury or death would result. Or alternatively, they think of the intoxicated parent driving their child around town. These are obvious examples of child endangerment, but what will shock the ordinary person is how ticky-tack the child endangerment law really is because it is so open to interpretation.

Under Iowa law, child endangerment under Iowa Code Section 726.6 is defined as follows:

A person who is the parent, guardian, or person having custody or control over a child. . .commits child endangerment when the person does any of the following:

  1. Knowingly acts in a manner that creates a substantial risk to a child[‘s]. . .physical, mental or emotional health or safety.

The key to this law is what is a “substantial risk” under Iowa law? InĀ State v. Anspach, 627 N.W. 2d 227 (Iowa 2001), the court stated the definition of substantial risk means a very real possibility of danger to a child’s health or safety. So what is a “very real possibility of danger?”

For the sake of the child endangerment statute, a child is defined as a person under the age of fourteen (14) but what is a very real possibility of danger? Do any of the below hypotheticals create a substantial risk to a child’s physical, mental or emotional health or safety?

  • Is subjecting your ten-year-old child to cigarette or marijuana smoke a real possibility of danger?
  • Is giving your ten-year-old a loaded rifle and telling him/her to go off and hunt by himself/herself a real possibility of danger?
  • Is allowing your twelve-year-old son to drive a tractor during harvest season a real possibility of danger?
  • Is allowing your thirteen-year-old to have a beer with you in your house a real possibility of danger?
  • Is speeding 20 mph over the speed limit with your child in the backseat a real possibility of danger?
  • Is leaving your two 11-year-old children at home by themselves a real possibility of danger?
  • Is leaving your 2-year-old in the backseat of your car while you run into Caseys to grab a cup of coffee a real possibility of danger.
  • If your 3, 4, and 5-year-old child sneak out of the house in the middle of the night during a cold November night while you are sleeping, does this amount to child endangerment?

The answers to the above questions may be tough. But I do know, if a county attorney wanted to, he or she can bring child endangerment charges against a parent if any of the above situations happened. Our Supreme Court has stated that this law is not vague but I certainly have difficulty knowing whether or not any of the above hypotheticals are actually child endangerment. And I’d venture a guess that many other people would have different answers as to whether each of the above hypotheticals creates a substantial risk to a child. I would be interested to hear what you think regarding my 8 hypotheticals; do they warrant child endangerment charges?

Child Endangerment convictions carry a bad stigma with them because people look at the convicted parent as a horrible human being. The most important thing you can do from the beginning is contacting a child endangerment defense attorney to protect your interests.

If you have any questions regarding the Iowa child endangerment law, do not hesitate to contact the Feld Law Firm.