Endangering the Welfare of Children is often called EWOC by defense attorneys and other people in the criminal justice system. This charge is found in section 4304 of the Crimes Code and prohibits a parent, guardian, or person supervising a child, meaning someone under 18, from knowingly endangering the welfare of the child by violating a duty of care, protection, or support.
Pennsylvania courts have established a three-part test that must be satisfied to prove EWOC:
- accused must be aware of his/her duty to protect the child;
- accused must be aware that the child was in circumstances that could threaten the child's physical or psychological welfare; and
- accused either failed to act or has took action that was so lame or meager that the actions could not reasonably be expected to protect the child's welfare.
A conviction of EWOC carries serious penalties, penalties that could include payment of fines and costs, probation or jail time, and collateral consequences such a Federal firearm prohibition.
What Does "Endangering Welfare of a Child" Mean?
One problem with this law is that it prohibits a person from endangering the welfare of a child but does not provide any definition for that phrase. What conduct "endangers the welfare of a child?" Most people want a black and white answer so that they know what does and does not violate the law. Some cases are easy violations of the law, such as driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol with children in the car.
Other cases involve fact patterns that are not clear-cut violations and instead fall under a gray area of the law. For example, a parent leaving a child unattended in a vehicle while the parent runs into a store or shop. Many such cases are fact sensitive. How long was the child unattended? How old was the child? Was the child asleep or awake and screaming? Was the car locked? What was weather like outside? Was the air conditioner or heater running?
Jury Decides Whether or Not a Crime was Committed
In the criminal justice system, it is the role of a jury to hear the evidence and make the determination whether the conduct of the person violated the law. What is and is not "endangering the welfare of a child" would ultimately be determined by a jury at trial. If a jury returns a not guilty verdict, then the jury made the decision that the conduct did not endanger a child's welfare, whereas a guilty verdict shows that the jury felt that the conduct was criminal in nature and violated the law. The key in such cases is that the person is represented by an experienced defense attorney that knows the law, knows the criminal justice system, and is familiar with the prospective jury panel.