CA Penal Code 273a

Child Endangerment

You can be found guilty of child endangerment if you performed either of the following:

  • If you cause a child to suffer unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering
  • If you willfully cause or permit a child to get injured
  • If you willfully cause or permit a child to be placed in a dangerous situation

Child endangerment is similar to child abuse charges, however, a child endangerment conviction does not require that the child is actually injured, unlike that of a child abuse conviction.

In order to be convicted of child endangerment the prosecutor has to prove one of the following:

  1. If you performed any of the following:
    1. That you willfully inflicted unjustifiable physical or mental pain or suffering on a child
    2. That you willfully permitted a child to suffer unjustifiable physical or mental pain or suffering
    3. That you caused or permitted a child in your care to be injured
    4. That you caused a child to be placed in a dangerous situation
  2. You acted negligently if you performed either of 2, 3, or 4 mentioned above
  3. You acted unreasonably while disciplining your child
  4. You acted in a way that was likely or reasonably likely to inflict great bodily injury or death upon a child

As you can see there are a plethora of ways that you can be prosecuted under CA Penal Code 273a. And again, the prosecutor does not need to prove that you physically harmed the child, only that the child could have been harmed.

Child endangerment is a wobbler, meaning you can either be convicted of a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the circumstances of the crime. If convicted of child endangerment as a misdemeanor you will face:

  • Up to six months in county jail
  • Up to $1,000 in fines
  • Informal probation for a minimum of four years
  • At least one year of child abuser’s treatment counseling
  • A protective order served against you

If convicted of child endangerment as a felony you will face:

  • Up to six years in state prison
  • Up to $10,000 in fines
  • Formal probation for a minimum of four years
  • A “strike” in accordance to California’s Three Strikes Law

Prosecuting Child Endangerment Charges

As previously mentioned, in order to be convicted of child endangerment the prosecutor is not responsible for proving that you injured a child, just that you performed one of the following elements of the crime:

  1. If you performed any of the following:
    1. That you willfully inflicted unjustifiable physical or mental pain or suffering on a child
    2. That you willfully permitted a child to suffer unjustifiable physical or mental pain or suffering
    3. That you caused or permitted a child in your care to be injured
    4. That you caused a child to be placed in a dangerous situation
  2. You acted negligently if you performed either of 2, 3, or 4 mentioned above
  3. You acted unreasonably while disciplining your child
  4. You acted in a way that was likely or reasonably likely to inflict great bodily injury or death upon a child

If the prosecutor can prove that you performed any of these elements beyond a reasonable doubt then you will be convicted of child endangerment.

The first element of the crime is that you performed the actions willfully. Willfully in defined by the state as acting on purpose. In other words, the prosecutor must prove that you purposefully acted in a way to endanger a child.

The second scenario in the first element states, “That you willfully permitted a child to suffer unjustifiable physical or mental pain.” Unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering is defined as not reasonably necessary, or excessive under the circumstances.

The second element of the crime requires that you acted negligently. California defines criminal negligence as acting in a way that is so aggravated, gross, or reckless that it goes against all common sense.

The third element of the crime is that you acted unreasonably while disciplining your child. All the prosecutor has to prove for this element of the crime is that you acted in a way that was beyond the reasonable and normal means of discipline. Again, the prosecutor does not need to prove that you injured the child, only that you placed the child in a situation where he/she was likely to be injured.

If the prosecutor cannot prove any of these elements of the crime then you will not be charged with child endangerment. Be aware that the prosecutor does not need to prove each element of the crime, they only need to prove that you fulfilled one of the elements.

Defending Child Endangerment Charges

Harming a child or placing a child in a dangerous situation is a terrible crime and should be punished, but only if the act was intentional and the correct person gets in trouble. That being said, there are several legal defenses that an effective criminal defense attorney will explore to prove your innocence.

The first element of the crime is the most important and often the most used legal defense. In order to be convicted of child endangerment the act has to be willful, meaning the action must have been performed on purpose. If your criminal defense attorney can prove that you were acting responsibly and your child got injured because of an accident then you will not be convicted of child endangerment.

Parents in the United States have a legal right to discipline their children, and one within that right lies the ability to inflict reasonable corporal punishment. Corporal punishment is defined as physical punishment inflicted on the body. The most common type of corporal punishment that parents typically exercise is a spanking. However, if you go beyond what is reasonable then you will still be convicted of the crime. It becomes the job of your attorney to prove to the jury, the judge, and the prosecutor that your level of corporal punishment was reasonable.

Because of the nature of the crime it is not entirely uncommon for the defendant to be a victim of false accusations. Children can create a story in their head and then share it with a concerned adult who then calls the police. Any crimes involving children are very serious and are subsequently handled promptly by police which can lead to wrongful arrests. These types of allegations can also come from divorced parents who are fighting over custody of their children. Divorces involving children can be very ugly and people do whatever they can in order to be granted custody of their children, even if that means breaking the law and falsely accusing the other parent of child endangerment.

It will be your attorney’s job to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the allegations made against you are indeed false. Your attorney will talk to witnesses and gather valuable information from friends and family regarding your behavior and parenting skills. If your attorney can prove that you were wrongfully arrested then you will not be convicted.

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References

[1] Any person who, under circumstances or conditions likely to produce great bodily harm or death, willfully causes or permits any child to suffer, or inflicts thereon unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering, or having the care or custody of any child, willfully causes or permits the person or health of that child to be injured, or willfully causes or permits that child to be placed in a situation where his or her person or health is endangered, shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or in the state prison for two, four, or six years.

(b) Any person who, under circumstances or conditions other than those likely to produce great bodily harm or death, willfully causes or permits any child to suffer, or inflicts thereon unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering, or having the care or custody of any child, willfully causes or permits the person or health of that child to be injured, or willfully causes or permits that child to be placed in a situation where his or her person or health may be endangered, is guilty of a misdemeanor.

(c) If a person is convicted of violating this section and probation is granted, the court shall require the following minimum conditions of probation:

(1) A mandatory minimum period of probation of 48 months.

(2) A criminal court protective order protecting the victim from further acts of violence or threats, and, if appropriate, residence exclusion or stay-away conditions.

(3) (A) Successful completion of no less than one year of a child abuser’s treatment counseling program approved by the probation department. The defendant shall be ordered to begin participation in the program immediately upon the grant of probation. The counseling program shall meet the criteria specified in Section 273.1. The defendant shall produce documentation of program enrollment to the court within 30 days of enrollment, along with quarterly progress reports.

(B) The terms of probation for offenders shall not be lifted until all reasonable fees due to the counseling program have been paid in full, but in no case shall probation be extended beyond the term provided in subdivision (a) of Section 1203.1. If the court finds that the defendant does not have the ability to pay the fees based on the defendant’s changed circumstances, the court may reduce or waive the fees.

(4) If the offense was committed while the defendant was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the defendant shall abstain from the use of drugs or alcohol during the period of probation and shall be subject to random drug testing by his or her probation officer.

(5) The court may waive any of the above minimum conditions of probation upon a finding that the condition would not be in the best interests of justice. The court shall state on the record its reasons for any waiver.

[2] http://thelawdictionary.org/willful-2/

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criminal_negligence

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