Child Endangerment Laws in Texas

By Danielle Smyth

Updated August 08, 2018

portrait of a girl sitting on the back seat of a car

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Endangering a child in Texas, as elsewhere, is a serious crime and has severe penalties. Whether you intend to place a child in harm’s way or inadvertently do so, the law treats the situation the same way. There is a certain degree of subjectivity to the laws regarding child endangerment in Texas when it comes to the age of the child and the specific situation. Note, however, that actions classified as endangerment can be penalized regardless of whether the child was actually injured.

Child Endangerment Explained

Child endangerment laws protect those under the age of 15 from reckless behavior or negligence that places them in danger. In Texas, it is illegal to leave a child without reasonable care. The law dictates that what a reasonable adult would do in a given situation constitutes reasonable care. For instance, leaving a 14-year-old at home for an hour while you go to a meeting would likely be considered appropriate. However, going to a meeting and leaving a four-year-old at home and unattended would not be considered reasonable care.

In addition, any behavior that could cause a child bodily harm, mental duress or the risk of death is considered a crime in Texas. It doesn’t matter whether these actions are taken out of negligence, are reckless or are intentional. They are all treated the same way under the law.

Child Endangerment Examples

Some examples of child endangerment in Texas are as follows: not requiring a child to wear a seat belt; reckless driving when a child is in the car; leaving a child under the age of seven in a vehicle for longer than five minutes; receiving a DWI (driving while intoxicated) when a child is in the car; placing a child in any form of danger; engaging in sexual activity while a child is in view; placing a child in the presence of unsecured firearms; or taking methamphetamines in the presence of a child or allowing them to ingest the drugs. Similar acts are also considered child endangerment, and penalties are subjective under the law.

Child Endangerment Penalty

The penalty for child endangerment varies depending on the type of behavior committed. For instance, leaving a child unsupervised in a vehicle can yield Class C misdemeanor penalties. A DWI arrest with a child passenger, however, can mean up to 10 years in state jail, a fine of up to $10,000, and loss of your driver's license for 180 days. Abandonment of a child can mean anywhere from 180 days to 10 years in jail, depending on the perceived intent to return for the child. In addition, a fine of up to $10,000 can also be levied.

Placing a child in imminent danger is a second degree felony. Depending on the nature of the crime and a past criminal record, penalties can be two to 20 years jail time and a fine of up to $10,000. Any situations involving children and controlled substance possession, manufacture or ingestion, regardless of intent, require a state jail sentence in Texas.