Causing mental harm to a child is a serious felony in Wisconsin. Contact Van Severen Law Office, S.C. immediately for help.

Causing mental harm to a child is a Class F felony in Wisconsin.  That means if you’re convicted of this crime, you face a maximum penalty of 12.5 years in prison.  That 12.5 year potential sentence breaks down into 7.5 years initial confinement (time in prison) and 5 years extended supervision (like probation).  Obviously this is a serious charge that requires serious attention.  Hiring a top criminal defense attorney is certainly one of the best ways to begin dealing with a situation like this.

Causing mental harm to a child is a charge typically associated with two different areas of law: Mainly child abuse, and secondarily, sexual assault.  While this charge certainly says nothing specifically about sexual assault, our criminal defense attorneys typically observe these charges within these broader situations.  But again, looking at the basic language of this statute, it fits easily within a typical child abuse situation.

At Van Severen Law Office, S.C., our criminal defense attorneys frequently defend individuals facing incredibly serious charges.  These charges regularly involve sexual assault, child abuse, and charges like causing mental harm to a child.  Our criminal defense lawyers are in court every day defending clients facing serious, felony-level charges.  Contact us immediately at (414) 270-0202 and let’s set up a time to discuss your case.

What is causing mental harm to a child?  Wis. Stat. 948.04

Section 948.04 of the Wisconsin Statutes describes causing mental harm to a child.  The statute indicates that:

Whoever is exercising temporary or permanent control of a child and causes mental harm to that child by conduct which demonstrates substantial disregard for the mental well-being of the child is guilty of a Class F felony.

As with most child abuse cases, failure to report causing mental harm to a child is also a crime.  Section 948.04(2) indicates that:

A person responsible for the child’s welfare is guilty of a Class F felony if that person has knowledge that another person has caused, is causing or will cause mental harm to that child, is physically and emotionally capable of taking action which will prevent the harm, fails to take that action and the failure to act exposes the child to an unreasonable risk of mental harm by the other person or facilitates the mental harm to the child that is caused by the other person.

Getting to our discussion from the introduction, there’s certainly no explicit mention of sexual conduct.  Prosecutors attempt to fit those charges within this statute using the general words “causes mental harm.”  One of the factors limiting this ability is that the defendant must be a parent, guardian, or someone exercising control of the child.

Wisconsin Criminal Jury Instruction 2116

Jury instructions break down crimes into smaller parts, called elements.   Courts typically use jury instructions to educate jurors on the charges a defendant faces.  They’re important because the elements are what the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt.  If the government cannot prove these elements, they cannot sustain a conviction.

Wisconsin Criminal Jury Instruction 2116 provides the elements of causing mental harm to a child:

  • Firstly, the defendant was exercising temporary or permanent control of the victim.
  • Secondly, the victim suffered mental harm.
  • Thirdly, the defendant caused mental harm to the victim.  This requires that the defendant’s conduct was a substantial factor in producing the mental harm.
  • Fourthly, the defendant caused mental harm by conduct which demonstrated substantial disregard for the mental wellbeing of the child.
  • And finally, the child was under 18 years old at the time.

One important definition:

  1. Mental harm means substantial harm to a child’s psychological or intellectual functioning which may be evidenced by a substantial degree of certain characteristics of the child, including, but not limited to, anxiety, depression, withdrawal, or outward aggressive behavior.  It can be demonstrated by a substantial and observable change in behavior, emotional response, or cognition that is not within the normal range for the child’s age and stage of development.

How hiring a criminal defense attorney helps:

Child witnesses have credibility issues.  Sometimes they’re tricked into saying things that aren’t true.  Other times they intentionally say things that aren’t true.  Hiring a defense attorney who understands the psychology involved with kids is important when hiring an attorney for cases involving them.  Since before criminal defense attorney Benjamin T. Van Severen was a practicing lawyer, he’s worked with these issues.  He understands how to attack child credibility effectively.

Other times prosecutors try to convict you through circumstantial evidence.  These cases require a skilled defense attorney.  Poking holes in the State’s case and showing why the circumstantial evidence doesn’t conclude what the State says it does can be an effective technique in defending your case.

Attacking the government’s case happens at a few levels.  Sometimes we’ll file pre-trial motions attacking certain pieces of evidence or issues involved in your case.  Those motions sometimes include attacking the admissibility of evidence obtained through illegal searches.  Other times (particularly relevant to this charge) we’ll file motions attempting to exclude from use at trial statements the defendant made.  Finally, also relevant to this charge, we will sometimes file Daubert motions, which attack the credibility of expert witnesses.  Not all of those motions are automatically relevant to every case, but they’re ones we’ll consider when analyzing any case.

A teacher writes on a chalk board
Teachers are an example of an individual who “exercises temporary control of a child.” This subjects them to possible criminal charges under this statute. Contact our criminal defense attorneys at (414) 270-0202 immediately for help.

Hire Wisconsin’s criminal defense attorneys

When facing serious criminal charges, one of the most important first steps to take is to hire a top criminal defense lawyer.  At Van Severen Law Office, S.C., you’ll meet a few of those attorneys.  Defending our clients and fighting against the government is our top priority.  We spend 100% of our time representing individuals facing serious criminal charges throughout the state.

Contact us at (414) 270-0202.  During that call you’ll have the opportunity to speak with one of our criminal defense lawyers and to set up a time for a free initial consultation.

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