Neglect of a Dependent in Indiana

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What Constitutes Neglect of a Dependent?

Indiana’s neglect of a dependent statute (I.C. 35-46-1-4) reads in pertinent part:
A person having the care of a dependent, whether assumed voluntarily or because of a legal obligation, who knowingly or intentionally:

  • Places the dependent in a situation that endangers the dependent’s life or health;
  • Abandons or cruelly confines the dependent;
  • Deprives the dependent of necessary support; or
  • Deprives the dependent of education as required by law;

Commits neglect of a dependent, a level 6 felony.

There are many enhancements that can makes this charge much more serious, however, this blog looks to discuss two main points, who is a dependent and what action qualifies as neglect.  To answer these questions, we will look at Indiana case law where the appellate courts have ruled on various sets of facts that will help us better understand how courts define this crime.

First is the easier question.  Who qualifies as a dependent.  Many times, clients will call us and say that wasn’t my child so they aren’t my dependent.  The answer is not that simple.  That is because the statue says legal obligation or where you have assumed the dependent voluntarily.  The only case right on point as to this issue is Kellog vs. State, 636 N.E.2d Ind. Ct. App. 1994.  In Kellog, the defendant argued that there was no proof that the minor girl that was in his vehicle at the time he drove intoxicated was his dependent and therefore he couldn’t be convicted of neglect of a dependent.  The Court stated, “…the statutory language makes it clear that assuming care of a dependent voluntarily, even if the dependent is no the defendant’s child, is sufficient to prove care of a dependent.”  Kellog, 636 N.E.2d 1264.

The next question, what is neglect is more complicated.  We will examine a variety of cases to see where the court has found neglect and where it has not.

Failing to get medical treatment after causing bruising of child found not to be neglect. 

In Dayton vs. State, 501 N.E.2d 482 Ind. Ct. App. 1986, a father physically abused his daughter leaving bruising in swelling on her had abdomen, temple and buttocks.  He was convicted of neglect of a dependent for not taking her for medical treatment.  However, the Court found this did not rise to neglect because there was no evidence that the bruises inflicted by the defendant placed the child in a condition requiring medical attention, without which her health would be endangered.

Two children missing a combined 14 unexcused days of school found not to be neglect.

In Hamilton vs. State, 694 N.E.2d 1171 Ind. Ct. App. 1998, the State convicted a mother for neglect of a dependent for her two children missing a combined 14 unexcused days of school in one semester.  The Court found this was not neglect.  The Court stated the State failed to show the children’s “educations were harmed to such an extent that they were deprived of the acquisition of knowledge required of children their age.”  Hamilton at 1172.

Leaving 7-year-old home alone for 3 hours not neglect.

In Scruggs vs. State, the Court held that leaving a  7-year-old home alone constituted neglect.  The Court found, “…there was no evidence of other circumstances to support an inference that defendant had… a subjective awareness of a high probability that [the child] was placed in a dangerous situation when she left him alone”.  Scruggs.  It should be noted this case did not find that leaving a 7-year-old home alone never constitutes neglect, only that it didn’t in this case.

There have been many cases where neglect has been found.  The following are some of these examples.

Leaving children in car with freezing temperatures is neglect.

In Helwig vs. State, 238 Ind. 558, Ind. 1958, the father of two children left the children locked in his car for several hours parked on a city street while he was drinking beer in a local tavern.  This was found to be neglect.

Knowingly allowing your child to be in the presence of a child molester is neglect.

Ware vs. State, 441 N.E.2d 20 Ind. Ct. App 1982 is a disturbing case.  In this case a mother let her seven-year-old daughter remain in the presence of her boyfriend despite her knowing that the boyfriend had raped the seven-year-old and caused her to contract a sexually transmitted disease.  By  not keeping her daughter away from this man the Court found this was neglect.

Leaving children in bathtub alone found to be neglect.

In Howard vs. State, 481 N.E.2d 1315, Ind. Ct. App. 1990, a parent left their children in a bathtub with very hot water running and with knowledge that the children would adjust the faucets themselves to even hotter water.  In this case the Court found leaving the kids alone in the tub was neglect.

Baby found in filthy condition found to be neglect.

In McClaskey vs. State, 540 N.E.2d 41, Ind. 1989, a baby was found filthy with severe diaper rash, sores all over its body, as well as a number of bruises.  In this case the Court found the evidence of the baby’s condition was enough to sustain a finding of neglect.

Failing to seek medical care can be neglect.

In Sample vs. State, 601 N.E.2d 457, Ind. Ct. App. 1992, the daughter had fallen and suffered injuries.  The Court found that there was ample evidence that she suffered serious injuries therefore, making it neglect to not seek medical care.  In Sander vs. State, 734 N.E.2d 646, Ind. Ct. App. 2000, the Court found where mother caused injuries to her child’s abdomen causing her to ultimately die, it was neglect that she did not take her daughter for medical treatment.

Extreme Conduct can be neglect.

In Williams vs. State, 829 N.E.2d, Ind. Ct. App. 2005, the parent would engage in extreme forms of punishment.  For example, the children would be forced to kneel on a broom stick and hold their arms out to their sides with weights on them for hours at a time.  The Court found this conduct to be extreme and amount to neglect.

Abandoning new born infant can be neglect.

In Robinson vs. State, 894 N.E.2d 1038, Ind. Ct. App. 2008, the mother of a newborn baby left the baby wrapped in a towel in a box.  The evidence showed the baby survived for six hours.  The Court found failing to take the baby for medical care was neglect.

As one can see what can amount to neglect is very subjective and very broad.  There is no Brightline rule.  The Court tends to focus on the child being placed in actual appreciable danger.  In those situations, the Court of Appeals has been likely to uphold a conviction.  Where the danger was just possible but not necessarily appreciable, the Court has tended to find the behavior was not neglectful.

Should you or a loved one ever face charges for neglect of a dependent, call the Criminal Defense Attorneys at Banks & Brower, 24 hours a day 7 days a week at (317) 870-0019.