Drug use is an epidemic today. According to the state of New Jersey, there were more than 80,000 people admitted to drug and alcohol abuse treatment programs in New Jersey in 2020. But even more shockingly, there were more than 31,000 deaths from opioid use in the U.S. in 2019, many of those from Fentanyl. At home in New Jersey, there were at least 58 suspected drug-related deaths in just one week between January 9, 2023, to January 15, 2023.
While drug and alcohol addiction are diseases that need treatment, there can still be legal consequences for drug or alcohol abuse in front of children in your care. A Westfield, New Jersey, middle school teacher recently discovered this after overdosing at school.
Endangering the Welfare of Children
The 57-year-old middle school teacher was found unconscious and unresponsive on the floor of his classroom while school was in session. When police arrived, a school nurse was treating him in front of the children in the classroom. An officer used Narcan on the teacher, who showed improvement. The police reported that they found drug paraphernalia and Fentanyl in a closet in the classroom. All Westfield police officers carry Narcan for overdose calls.
The teacher is now facing drug and endangering the welfare of children charges. In New Jersey, endangering the welfare of children occurs when someone with a legal duty to care for a child, including a parent or guardian, “causes the child harm that would make the child an abused or neglected child.”
Child Abuse in New Jersey
“Abuse” under New Jersey law includes “Performing  any indecent, immoral or unlawful act or deed, in the presence of a child, that may tend to debauch or endanger or degrade the morals of the child,” or “permitting or allowing any other person to perform any indecent, immoral or unlawful act in the presence of the child that may tend to debauch or endanger the morals of such child.” Taking drugs, overdosing, or frequently engaging in drunken behavior in front of a child can all fall under the definition of child abuse under New Jersey law.
If a parent or guardian, or other person with a legal duty to care for a child, endangers the welfare of a child, it's a second-degree indictable offense, the equivalent of a felony in other states. If convicted of a second-degree indictable offense, you can face five to ten years in prison and up to a $150,000 fine. See N.J.S.A. § 2C:24-4 (2013).
You Need an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney
If you're facing charges of child abuse or endangering the welfare of a child in New Jersey, you need the advice of an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. You shouldn't try navigating these charges or the New Jersey criminal justice system alone. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his skilled Criminal Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm can help. They've been helping people in New Jersey for years. Call the Lento Law Firm today at 888.535.3686 to schedule a consultation, or contact them online.