What is Child or Vulnerable Adult Abuse in Arizona?

ARS 13-3623 makes it a crime for a person to allow harm to occur to a child or vulnerable adult under that person’s care under certain circumstances. There are many levels of child/vulnerable adult abuse under the law, and the severity of the crime depends on the nature of the abuse/mistreatment — both in terms of how serious the abuse is and the intent of the person committing the abuse. A child is defined as any person under the age of 18, and a vulnerable adult is somebody over 18 but who, whether because of age or some disability, is unable to care form themselves.

Generally, if the abuse involves the risk of death or serious physical harm, then these types of abuse cases are treated more severely. The seriousness of the crime also increases the more intentional the abuse becomes. Intentional abuse is most serious, whereas abuse that is the result of negligence is less serious. No matter the type of abuse, however, a conviction under ARS 13-3623 is a felony.

A.R.S. § 13-3623 Defined

ARS 13-3623 is the law that describes the charge of child or vulnerable adult abuse. There are no less than 6 separate categories of child or vulnerable adult abuse. What type of category a person is charged with depends on whether or not the abuse is “likely to produce death or serious physical injury.” If the abuse is likely to do so, then the charges will fall under ARS 13-3623(A), if the abuse is not likely to involve death or serious physical injury, then the charges will fall under ARS 13-3623(B).

Under ARS 13-3623(A), “Under circumstances likely to produce death or serious physical injury, any person who causes a child or vulnerable adult to suffer physical injury or, having the care or custody of a child or vulnerable adult, who causes or permits the person or health of the child or vulnerable adult to be injured or who causes or permits a child or vulnerable adult to be placed in a situation where the person or health of the child or vulnerable adult is endangered is guilty of an offense as follows:

  • (1) If done intentionally or knowingly, the offense is a class 2 felony and if the victim is under fifteen years of age it is punishable pursuant to section 13-705 (the “Dangerous Crimes Against Children” statute).
  • (2) If done recklessly, the offense is a class 3 felony.
  • (3) If done with criminal negligence, the offense is a class 4 felony.

Under ARS 13-3623(B), “Under circumstances other than those likely to produce death or serious physical injury to a child or vulnerable adult, any person who causes a child or vulnerable adult to suffer physical injury or abuse or, having the care or custody of a child or vulnerable adult, who causes or permits the person or health of the child or vulnerable adult to be injured or who causes or permits a child or vulnerable adult to be placed in a situation where the person or health of the child or vulnerable adult is endangered is guilty of an offense as follows:

  • (1) If done intentionally or knowingly, the offense is a class 4 felony.
  • (2) If done recklessly, the offense is a class 5 felony.
  • (3) If done with criminal negligence, the offense is a class 6 felony.

What are the Penalties Under ARS 13-3623?

The punishment for child or elder abuse depends on which of the above categories it falls under. Depending on the circumstances of the crime, it can be anything between a class 2 felony and a class 6 felony. The penalties for these felonies are below:

Class 2 felony:

  • First-time offense: 3 to 12.5 years in prison
  • If the person has 1 prior felony: 4.5 to 23 years
  • If the person has 2 prior felonies: 10.5 to 35 years

Class 3 felony:

  • First-time offense: 2 to 8.75 years in prison
  • If the person has 1 prior felony: 3.25 to 16.25 years
  • If the person has 2 prior felonies: 7.5 to 25 years

Class 4 felony:

  • First-time offense: 1 to 3.75 years in prison
  • If the person has 1 prior felony: 2.25 to 7.5 years
  • If the person has 2 prior felonies: 6 to 15 years

Class 5 felony:

  • First-time offense: .5 to 2.5 years in prison
  • If the person has 1 prior felony: 1 to 3.75 years
  • If the person has 2 prior felonies: 3 to 7.5 years

Class 6 felony:

  • First-time offense: .25 to 2 years in prison
  • If the person has 1 prior felony: .75 to 2.75 years
  • If the person has 2 prior felonies: 2.25 to 5.75 years

Important Definitions for ARS 13-3623

  • “Emotional abuse” means a pattern of ridiculing or demeaning a vulnerable adult, making derogatory remarks to a vulnerable adult, verbally harassing a vulnerable adult or threatening to inflict physical or emotional harm on a vulnerable adult.
  • “Physical injury” means the impairment of physical condition and includes any skin bruising, pressure sores, bleeding, failure to thrive, malnutrition, dehydration, burns, fracture of any bone, subdural hematoma, soft tissue swelling, injury to any internal organ or any physical condition that imperils health or welfare.
  • “Serious physical injury” means physical injury that creates a reasonable risk of death or that causes serious or permanent disfigurement, serious impairment of health or loss or protracted impairment of the function of any bodily organ or limb.
  • “Vulnerable adult” means an individual who is eighteen years of age or older and who is unable to protect himself from abuse, neglect or exploitation by others because of a mental or physical impairment.

Defenses to Child or Vulnerable Adult Abuse

  • Not “Intentional,” “Reckless,” or “Negligent”: The main defenses to charges of abuse revolve around what is known as the “standard” of care. In other words, this means whether the alleged crime was committed “intentionally,” “recklessly,” or “negligently.” Simply because harm occurred to a child or vulnerable adult is not enough for the state to prove its case, the prosecutor must also show that the defendant fell below one of these standards. In order to show that an act was “negligent” the state must show that the defendant’s conduct was as “gross deviation” from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the situation. However, a person might take all the usual precautions in caring for a child or adult, but accidents can still happen. The core to this defense is showing that the defendant acted reasonably, even if harm occurred.

Example: A parent bring their child to the playground. While on the swing set, the child falls off and breaks his arm. The broken arm is a “physical injury”; however, this is merely an accident and the parent could not be expected to attempt to shield the child from all possible injury.

  • False Accusations: There are various circumstances under which a person may make a false accusation of child abuse or may encourage the child to make a false allegation. We see this often in messy divorce cases where one spouse thinks they can gain an advantage over the other spouse if that person has criminal charges pending. In these circumstances the case comes down to a “he-said/she-said” situation, where claims can be fabricated. A criminal background check on the victim or other false or inconsistent statements can be used to impeach a lying victim.

How Salwin Law Can Help

If you are facing charges child or vulnerable adult abuse under ARS 13-3623, you should seek the counsel of an experienced Phoenix defense attorney.

At Salwin Law Group, we fight aggressively to defend your rights. Stewart Salwin is a former felony prosecutor and graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School. He knows to create an effective defense strategy that will maximize the chances that you will receive a favorable outcome, including getting your charges lowered or dismissed.

Call Salwin Law Group PLLC today at (480) 470-6119, or contact us online to make your appointment.