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Will I Go to Jail for Child Neglect in New Mexico?


jailCriminal allegations involving children victims are some of the most severe. Child neglect is one such allegation. All states have some form of child neglect and abuse laws, and child neglect penalties are often unforgiving and strict. Child neglect penalties involve much of the same standard statutory penalties as other crimes—such as jail time and hefty fines. But child neglect crimes can be even more consequential since you potentially stand to lose custody of your child. 

Prosecutors take child neglect charges seriously, and you need a sharp defense attorney when the government alleges such an offense against you. At the New Mexico Criminal Law Offices, we have 22 years of experience advocating for those accused of crimes. We understand just what is at stake. Don’t hesitate to contact us at any time of the day or night, as we are available 24/7 to take your call.

What Is Child Neglect?

Broadly, neglect is defined as the failure of a parent or guardian to care for a child by providing basic needs. These include food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and the necessary supervision to ensure the child’s health, safety, and well-being. If you fail to provide these things and that results in harm to the child, you could be charged with child neglect. Individual state laws define the specific conduct that constitutes child neglect, and the New Mexico legislature refers to child neglect as abandonment or abuse of a child. 

Key Definitions

Before diving into the law, it is critical to understand a few key definitions.

First and foremost, under New Mexico law, a child is any person less than 18 years old.

And neglect refers to any child whose parents or guardians do not provide the proper parental care and control of subsistence, education, medical care, and any other care necessary for the child’s well-being.

Finally, the statute refers to criminal negligence as a reckless disregard for the health and safety of a child when that person knows or should know of the danger involved. 


In New Mexico, abandonment of a child occurs when the parent, guardian, or custodian of a child intentionally leaves or abandons the child under circumstances whereby the child might suffer or actually does suffer neglect. 

Child abandonment is a misdemeanor unless the abandonment results in the child’s death or great bodily harm, in which case the abandoner is guilty of a second-degree felony.

What Are the Grounds for a Child Neglect Charge?

Under New Mexico law, the accused must have known or reasonably should have known that their conduct or omission put the child’s health or well-being at risk.

Anyone who “reasonably suspects” child abuse must report it to the appropriate authorities. Failure to do so can result in up to a year in jail. Although this rule usually applies to medical professionals, anyone can face charges for failing to report suspected abuse.

An Exception to Neglect Charges

A parent, guardian, or custodian who leaves an infant less than 90 days old in compliance with the Safe Haven for Infants Act shall not be prosecuted for abandonment of a child.

This law allows an infant to be left at a hospital, fire station, or law enforcement agency so long as at least one member of staff is present and you notify them that you’ve left the baby. If you comply with the parameters, the State cannot charge you with child neglect.

Warning Signs of Child Neglect

Some signs of neglect include:

  • Lack of supervision for long periods,
  • Malnourishment,
  • Lack of personal hygiene or cleanliness,
  • Frequent tardiness or absence from school,
  • Rebellious or defiant behavior,
  • Problems sleeping, and
  • Self-harm.

Signs and symptoms of child neglect vary. Therefore, the presence of one of these signs does not necessarily mean the child is being neglected. 

Child Abuse

Child abuse is even more severe than abandonment or neglect. Child abuse, as opposed to abandonment, consists of a person knowingly, intentionally, or negligently, and without justifiable cause, causing or permitting a child to be:

  • Placed in a situation that may endanger the child’s life or health;
  • Tortured, cruelly confined, or cruelly punished; or
  • Exposed to inclement weather.

A first-offense child abuse crime that does not result in the child’s death or great bodily harm is a third-degree felony. A second or subsequent child abuse offense is a second-degree felony. Lastly, if the abuse results in significant physical injury to the child, the offender is guilty of a first-degree felony.

First-Degree Felony Child Abuse Offenses

A person is guilty of a first-degree felony if:

  • Their negligent abuse results in the death of the child; or
  • Their intentional abuse of a child between the ages of 12 to 18 results in the child’s death.

If a person intentionally abuses a child less than 12 years old and that child dies, the perpetrator is guilty of a first-degree resulting in the death of a child. These are the most heinous child abuse offenses.

Penalties for Child Neglect

All child neglect charges have severe consequences, as described below.

Misdemeanor Conviction

A conviction for misdemeanor child abandonment is punishable by:

  • Up to 1 year in jail, and 
  • A fine of up to $1,000.

Child abandonment will only be considered a misdemeanor if it does not result in severe bodily harm.

Third-Degree Felony Conviction

A conviction for third-degree felony child abandonment is punishable by:

  • Up to 3 years in prison, and
  • Up to a $5,000 fine.

You may be subject to a combination of both penalties.

Second-Degree Felony Conviction

A conviction for second-degree felony child abandonment is punishable by:

  • Up to 9 years in prison, and
  • Up to a $10,000 fine.

If the abandonment results in serious injury to the child, you face these severe penalties.

First-Degree Felony Conviction

A conviction for first-degree felony child abandonment is punishable by:

  • Up to 18 years in prison, and
  • A fine of up to $15,000.

If neglect or abuse results in the child’s death, the maximum penalty increases to life in prison.

Whether you are charged with a misdemeanor or felony offense, you will be subject to child custody consequences and could lose your parental rights. 

New Mexico Child Neglect Criminal Defense Lawyers

If you find yourself charged with child abandonment, you might wonder, Will I go to jail for child neglect in New Mexico? The short answer is, yes, there is a strong possibility you could face jail time. Hiring a knowledgeable and experienced criminal defense attorney is your best chance of avoiding incarceration. At the New Mexico Criminal Law Offices, we understand how to help our clients prevent imprisonment. Contact us to schedule a private consultation to discuss your charges.