Although most Minnesota child abuse cases are tried in state court, they may rise to the federal level when they are of special interest or when state lines were crossed.
What Might Cause a Child Abuse Case to Move to the Federal Level?
While officials have the authority to charge any child abuse case at the federal level, there are two scenarios that increase the odds that a defendant may end up in federal court.
Special Interest Cases
Special interest cases usually involve severe child abuse and neglect actions that cause great harm, and child abuse and neglect actions perpetrated on a large number of victims. Such cases generally receive a lot of publicity and media attention that pushes the federal justice system to act on the crimes.
Crossing State Lines
Child abuse crimes that occur within Minnesota are usually charged at the state level. Child abuse crimes that cross state or international borders are almost always charged at the federal level. When one parent accuses an ex-spouse living in another state of child abuse, the case will likely be handled in federal court, rather than state court. In some cases, communicating with an alleged victim over the internet may warrant federal charges.
The way laws are defined may also impact whether child abuse is charged at a state or federal level. Minnesota child abuse laws are defined under two categories: “malicious punishment of a child” and “neglect or endangerment,” a broader category that includes:
- Intentional neglect of care including shelter, food, water, healthcare, and supervision
- Placing a child in a high-risk situation likely to cause harm
- Exposing a child to an environment where drugs are sold or manufactured
- Allowing abuse or neglect to occur and/or failing to report it to authorities
Under federal laws, both categories are combined into one category defined as “abuse and neglect.” This category includes any act of abuse or neglect that results in physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation, and/or death of a child. It also includes failure to act to protect a child from harm.
When child abuse is charged at the federal level, penalties are usually harsh often carrying lifetime prison sentences. Penalties are established under federal guidelines that examine the nature of the crime and the severity of injuries to the victim or victims. Punishment is more severe if the offender has a prior record of criminal child abuse and/or neglect.