DC Abuse Laws

In Washington, DC, there are three kinds of criminal abuse: cruelty to vulnerable adults, cruelty to animals, and cruelty to children. Below is a brief outline of the statutory framework surrounding criminal abuse of vulnerable adults and cruelty to children. These are both very serious criminal offenses.

If you have been charged with either, or with a related crime, it is important that you contact a DC criminal lawyer. Learn more about how an experienced DC abuse attorney can help here.

Criminal Abuse of a Vulnerable Adult: Section 22-933

The DC Code Section 22-932 defines a “vulnerable adult” as a person who is at least 18 years old with a physical or mental condition that prevents the person from adequately providing for his/her own care or protection. Elderly individuals who cannot adequately care for themselves are included in this definition.

Criminal abuse of a vulnerable adult occurs when a person knowingly or purposefully:

  1. Inflicts (or threatens to inflict) physical pain or injury, or;
  2. Harasses or threatens through the use of repeated or malicious oral and/or written statements, or;
  3. Keeps the vulnerable adult involuntarily secluded or unreasonably confined against the will of the vulnerable adult, including but not limited to, forced separation from others against victim’s will or the directions of a legal representative.

Keep in mind that one does not need to inflict physical pain or injury for one’s actions to qualify as criminal abuse under this statute. In fact, Section 22-933 makes it explicitly clear that oral and/or written statements can qualify as criminal abuse, as can involuntary confinement and/or seclusion.

The penalties for criminal abuse of a vulnerable adult may change depending on the result of the abuse.

As a base, the penalties for a person who committed criminal abuse of a vulnerable person is a fine of up to $1,000, up to 180 days in jail, or both.

However, if the vulnerable person was caused serious bodily injury or severe mental distress, the penalties jump to a felony conviction with up to $25,000 in fines, up to 10 years in prison, or both.

Lastly, if the vulnerable person was caused permanent bodily harm or death, the perpetrator faces a felony conviction with up to $75,000 in fines, up to 20 years in prison, or both. Section 22-3571.01.

Cruelty to Children: Section 22-1101

In the District of Columbia, child abuse (which is distinct from sexual abuse) falls under cruelty to children, a crime outlined in DC Code Section 22-1101. Cruelty to children is a felony criminal offense that is broken down into two degrees.

Cruelty to Children in the First Degree: Section 22-1101(a)

Cruelty to Children in the first degree occurs when the perpetrator

  1. Deliberately, knowingly, or recklessly harms a child under 18 years of age, or;
  2. Acts in a way that creates a risk of harm to the child, and ultimately causes harm to the child.

Typical examples of the type of harm done to the child that fulfill these requirements include torturing, beating, or injuring the child. Furthermore, the risk outlined in (2) must be a risk of bodily injury and, likewise, must cause bodily injury. This is distinct from the “severe mental distress” sufficient for criminal abuse of a vulnerable adult.

The penalty for cruelty to children in the first degree is a felony conviction with up to $37,500 in fines, up to 15 years in prison, or both. Section 22-1101(c)(1).

Cruelty to Children in the Second Degree: Section 22-1101(b)

Unlike cruelty to children in the first degree, cruelty to children in the second degree does not require the child to suffer bodily injury. However, it still requires that the perpetrator deliberately, knowingly, or recklessly:

  1. Harms a child or acts in a way that places the child at risk of bodily injury, or;
  2. Exposes a child (or helps to expose the child) in any place (usually outside) in an effort to abandon the child.

When referring to harming a child, it does not require the harm to be as serious as torture or beatings. Legally, it only requires the “maltreatment” of the child. This includes any kind of treatment that causes harm to the child.

The penalty for cruelty to children in the second degree is a felony conviction with up to $25,000 in fines, up to 10 years in prison, or both. Section 22-1101(c)(2).

Sexual abuse (which is the DC violation for rape, among other sexual offenses) is covered in a different section.

How a DC Abuse Lawyer Can Help

These crimes have severe penalties for imprisonment and hefty fines upon conviction. Furthermore, abuse charges carry a social stigma. In addition, a criminal conviction will become part of your permanent criminal record that could jeopardize your employability, security clearance, ability to secure a loan, and education opportunities. Contact a DC abuse lawyer today if you or a loved one has been charged with one of these violations.