Stepmother Charged with Aggravated Child Abuse for Using Taser and Wooden Stick on Child

February 24, 2023 Criminal Defense, Violent Crimes

In Florida, it is not illegal to physically discipline your child. However, there are strict laws against those who inflict physical or mental injury on their children. While each parent may have different methods of parenting, certain acts could result in criminal charges.

In one recent Florida case, a stepmother is now facing aggravated child abuse for being too violent with a child.

This article will provide details from the case, along with information on child abuse in Florida and resources for children in need.

What was the Incident?

Miami-Dade police arrested Samantha Figueroa, 32, after her step-son showed up to his class with several untreated injuries. According to the report, the boy confided in a classmate that Figueroa had used a wooden stick to punish him for playing video games.

One of the administrators at the K-12 private school contacted the police on February 8th, 2023. Upon arrival, the child told officers about his two head injuries. 

“I am scared to go home every single day…My mom hits me with her fist, hand, wire hanger, belt, or anything she finds,” the boy—who remains anonymous due to age—told one of the detectives.

Figueroa was arrested by the police on Wednesday. When questioned about the incident, the defendant claimed she was “under a lot of stress.” This was not the defendant’s first case with DCF. The Department of Children and Families (DCF) had dealt with Figueroa before when she had allegedly used a taser to punish the same boy.

The boy’s stepmom is now facing charges of aggravated child abuse with great bodily harm, and child neglect with great bodily harm.

Parent’s Rights to Physical Punishment of their Children

Under Florida Statute Section 39.01(2), Florida’s legislation has codified a parent or legal custodian’s right to inflict corporal discipline for disciplinary purposes on a child. The key point here is that such discipline must not result in harm to the child.

Similarly, Florida Statute Section 984.03 also contains an identical exception in the definition of abuse. This is not surprising as even the Florida Supreme Court has found that parents have a right to use corporal disciple on their children, using the example of a spanking as a reasonable form of corporal punishment.

This does not mean that a parent has an absolute privilege to use corporal punishment, as excessive and unreasonable action can easily rise to the level of child abuse.

Aggravated Child Abuse in Florida

Child abuse is defined under Florida Statute Section 827.03 as the intentional infliction of mental or physical injury upon a child, or the intentional act that could reasonably be expected to result in physical or mental injury to a child. In addition, child abuse can also mean the active encouragement of any person to commit an act on a child which could reasonably result in mental or physical injury.

In Florida, child abuse crimes can range from a third- to a first-degree felony.

Child abuse resulting in a third-degree felony is when any person willfully and knowingly abuses a child without great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement. It is also considered a third-degree felony child abuse offense if any person willfully or by culpable negligence neglects a child without causing great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement. A third-degree felony in Florida has penalties of up to a $5,000 fine and up to five years in prison.

Child abuse resulting in a second-degree felony occurs when any person willfully or by culpable negligence neglects a child and in doing so causes great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement. A second-degree felony in Florida has penalties of up to a $10,000 fine and up to 15 years in prison.

The most severe penalties are for those offenses that are considered to be Aggravated Child Abuse. Florida Law defines aggravated child abuse as when a person:

  • Commits aggravated battery upon a child;
  • Willfully tortures, maliciously punishes, or willfully and unlawfully cages a child; or
  • Knowingly or willfully abuses a child and in doing so causes great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement.

A person charged with aggravated child abuse faces a first-degree felony in Florida. The penalties for a first-degree felony include up to a $10,000 fine and up to 30 years in prison.

DCF’s Office of Child and Family Well-Being

The Department of Children and Families (DCF) has a variety of services to ensure the safety and well-being of children and their families. Their responsibilities include services such as reuniting or working to keep family members together, foster care, youth and young adults transitioning from foster care to independence, and adoption. DCF’s child welfare services have the following goals:

  • Preventing the separation of children from their families;
  • Protecting children from alleged abuse, neglect, or abandonment;
  • Reuniting families who have lost their children to other relatives or foster care;
  • Establishing permanent living arrangements for children who (1) cannot be reunited with their families or (2) whose reunification of the family is not in the child’s best interest; and
  • Transitioning self-sufficient young adults who continue to be in foster care.

Florida’s Required Reporting of Child Abuse

Anyone who knows or believes they know of a child or young adult who is being abused or neglected by a parent, legal guardian, or other caregiver is required to report under Florida Statute Section 39.201.

However, only people with certain occupations are required to provide their names when reporting the abuse.

These occupations include physicians, medical examiners, nurses, health care and mental professionals, teachers and other school officials, social workers, daycare center workers, law enforcement officers, judges, and even animal control officers.

Everyone else is permitted to keep their name confidential when reporting to the central abuse hotline.

Florida Statute Section 39.201 explains that there is a mandatory requirement to report any child abuse to authorities. Any individual who knows or suspects that a child is a victim of abuse is required to immediately report the incident to the central abuse hotline by phone, in writing, or through electronic reporting if he or she knows, or suspects, any of the following:

  • Child abuse, abandonment, or neglect by a parent or caregiver, which includes, but is not limited to, when a child is abused, abandoned or neglected by a parent, legal custodian, caregiver, or any other person responsible for that child’s welfare.
  • Child abuse by an adult other than a parent, legal guardian, caregiver, or another person responsible for the child’s welfare. The central abuse hotline must then immediately reach out to the appropriate county’s sheriff’s office to report the alleged criminal offense.

DCF’s Florida Abuse Hotline can be contacted 24/7 at 1-800-ABUSE / 1-800-962-2873.

If you or someone you know has falsely been accused of child neglect or abuse, it is in your best interest to reach out to a skilled defense attorney in your area.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

Violent crimes against children are harshly prosecuted in Florida, due to the nature of the offense. If you or someone you know has been accused of child abuse, it is imperative that you speak with a legal representative. An experienced criminal defense attorney in Tallahassee can help review case details and try to get your charges dismissed.

Don Pumphrey and his team at Pumphrey Law have worked with clients all across the state for various criminal offenses. Our team will strive to provide top-quality legal support and ensure none of your rights are violated in the process. To receive a free consultation regarding your case today, contact Pumphrey Law Firm at (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message on our website.

Written by Karissa Key

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