Tennessee Bill That Increases Criminal Penalty For Indirectly Causing Abuse Or Imminent Harm To A Child Moves To Full Committee

Image: Bill sponsor Representative Mary Littleton (R-D78-Dickson) Image Credit: capitol.tn.gov

The Tennessee Conservative [By Kelly M. Jackson] –

A bill that increases the penalty for those who indirectly cause harm or death to a child (in that they aren’t the actual person who inflicted the abuse) moved directly through the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee to the full House Criminal Justice Committee without any questions being taken from its members, indicating total bi-partisan support.  

House Bill 1817 (HB1817) states,” Criminal Offenses – As introduced, increases the penalty from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class D felony for the offense of child endangerment by a parent or custodian of a child eight years of age or less if the parent or guardian knowingly exposes the child to, or knowingly fails to protect the child from, abuse or neglect resulting in physical injury or imminent danger to the child; increases the penalty from a Class D felony to a Class B felony for a person who negligently, by act or omission, engages in conduct that places a child eight years of age or less in imminent danger of death, bodily injury, or physical or mental impairment. – Amends TCA Title 39.” 


The bill is being carried in the House by Representative Mary Littleton (R-D78-Dickson) and in the state senate by Senator Dawn White (R-D13-Murfreesboro) as SB2662

The legislation passed in the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee by a voice vote, called by Chairman Clay Doggett (R-Pulaski-District 70). Ayes prevailed.

To understand the differences from the current law, versus the changes that this bill would impose, the key is understanding the legal definitions of the terms “knowingly” and “negligently” and the differences between the criminal consequences of misdemeanors and felonies. 

First, the legal definition of acting “knowingly” means that the defendant is practically certain that the conduct will cause a particular result. 

So, a person who knowingly exposes a child to a person or condition that they are relatively certain will cause “imminent” harm or abuse, will now be charged with a class D felony instead of a class A misdemeanor.

The difference is that with a misdemeanor, the defendant would spend up to one year in jail. The maximum timebeing 12 months, which much of the time ends up being pleaded down to maybe a few months, or just probation with no jail time served, or dropped all together.

Should this law pass, the punishment will automatically go to a minimum of 2 years’ incarceration, and no more than 4. 


Next, the legal definition of “negligently” (not to be confused with “recklessly”) means the defendant was not aware of the risk but should have been aware of the risk (perhaps based on the place, or people who they knew would be involved) and acted in a way that caused abuse or “imminent” harm to a child. 

In such a case, the punishment which is currently a D felony with a minimum sentence of not less than 2 years, and no more than 4 years, will be increased to the charge of a B felony which if convicted carries a minimum of not less than 8 years, and no more than 12 years. 

These types of penalties might be most appropriate for those who happen to live with a spouse or parent that causes the abuse, and do nothing to mitigate it or even stop it by removing the child. 

It also isn’t difficult to see that this increase in penalties for those who do not directly inflict harm on children, but rather set the table for such events, have become a recent focus with the steep increase in child trafficking cases in the state of Tennessee.

A recent report stated that Middle Tennessee saw 361 human trafficking calls in 2023 compared to 183 in East Tennessee, 307 in Upper East Tennessee and 265 in West Tennessee.

Further, the report also saw an alarming increase in minor sex trafficking. Over the past eight years, minor sex trafficking reports increased from 66 in 2016 to more than 600 by 2021.

In 2023, minor sex trafficking surpassed all other types of trafficking reported. There were 518 reports of minor sex trafficking as of November of last year.  

The reports noted that minor victims ages ranged from five months to 17 years old.

Based on this information, it seems prudent for state lawmakers to ensure that those who are involved in the furtherance of these types of crimes which in turn create the circumstances for the severe abuse of a minor child, receive the punishment that they deserve if convicted. 

The date the bill is to be heard before full committee is yet to be set.

About the Author: Kelly Jackson is a recent escapee from corporate America, and a California refugee to Tennessee. Christ follower, Wife and Mom of three amazing teenagers. She has a BA in Comm from Point Loma Nazarene University, and has a background in law enforcement and human resources. Since the summer of 2020, she has spent any and all free time in the trenches with local grassroots orgs, including Mom’s for Liberty Williamson County and Tennessee Stands as a core member.  Outspoken advocate for parents rights, medical freedom, and individual liberty. Kelly can be reached at kelly@tennesseeconservativenews.com.

3 thoughts on “Tennessee Bill That Increases Criminal Penalty For Indirectly Causing Abuse Or Imminent Harm To A Child Moves To Full Committee

  • February 21, 2024 at 7:13 pm

    As is the norm, good intentions will bring bad results. In too many cases, spousal abuse accompanies the child abuse. Under this law, a woman or man, for that matter, who is being abused and in fear of their own lives can be prosecuted and jailed for failing to meet some Utopian idea of right and wrong. Children are abused and or die every day, often when they are supposed to be watched over by a undermanned Child Services Department. The case worker either fails to see the signs of said abuse or due to a huge caseload doesn’t see the family as often as they should. It’s happened too often and no case worker has gone to jail for their failure. Do we start now?

  • February 21, 2024 at 9:57 pm

    This legislation is far too vague to support. Though well intentioned, it would be impossible to accurately enforce. Say a child falls and whacks their dome on the coffee table as toddlers often do. Who’s fault is it? Dad for watching TV? Mom for being at the Bridge Game? Older siblings who are doing homework and didn’t see the child in harms way?
    To vague to trust our Legislature with.
    What if a Liberal Democrat harms another child? They’ll just skate by like all the Biden Clan do.
    Try not to look at this from an emotional view.
    Bad idea for a good gesture.

  • February 22, 2024 at 10:22 pm

    Like Ralph and Harry, I too have some concerns about this legislation. Vague is a bad word when it comes to the law. How about when a DA with an axe to grind or a political race to win, applies the letter of the law to someone who’s made a mistake? Of course, we all want the bad guys to go to jail, but do we want to allow the government to room to make a judgement call making an example of someone? I hope that those more familiar with the legal system will speak up on this one.


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