Endangering the Welfare of a Child: Must Harmful Conduct Be Direct at the Child?

As a NY criminal defense attorney I have drafted numerous entries dealing with the crime of Endangering the Welfare of a Child. It is a serious crime with ramifications beyond the criminal law and a crime that people from all walks of life – from lawyers and physicians to construction workers and bus drivers – can face. Once again I am writing an entry on this crime. Only a few weeks ago, a noteworthy New York criminal court decision, and one you should be aware of, regarding Endangering the Welfare of a Child was handed down.

In People v. People v. Franklin Lora, 2008NY083374, decided March 26, 2009, the defendant, in the presence of his two children under the age of five, allegedly placed a gun to his wife’s head and threatened to kill her. The defendant’s attorney argued that the complaint against his client should be dismissed for facial insufficiency because the defendant’s conduct was directed at the wife and not the children. In other words, because the children merely were present and not part of the underlying crime that was the basis of the endangerment, the charge of Endangering the Welfare of a Child cannot stand.

Disagreeing with the criminal defense lawyer, Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Yavinsky held that “…the act of threatening [the complainant], in front of her young children, that she was ‘gonna get it’ and would be ‘next on [the defendant’s] list’ while brandishing what appeared to be a firearm, would be sufficient to sustain a conviction for Endangering the Welfare of a Child.” The court relied on the Court of Appeals decision in People v. Johnson, 95 NY2d 368 (2000) in deciding against the defendant and his contention that the children need to be the subject or target of the behavior.

In Johnson, the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, held that “[n]othing in the [Endangering the Welfare of a Child] statute restricts its application solely to harmful conduct directed at children.” Moreover, the Court stated that it is sufficient to establish that the defendant knowingly acted in a manner likely to be injurious to a child when the domestic violence only occurs in the presence of a child even if the act is not direct at the child.

Obviously, regardless of the criminal ramifications, we should all be careful to behave properly, safely and appropriately in front of children. If you are accused of behavior that falls into the realm of Endangering the Welfare of a Child, contact Saland Law PC to fight for your rights and to make sure that an ugly allegation that is lacking in truth and facts does not destroy your integrity or land you behind bars.

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