According to California law, you may face charges for child endangerment if you willfully expose a child to danger, pain, or suffering. Most people confuse child endangerment law with California child abuse law. However, the two laws are distinct and have different consequences. The California Penal Code 273a outlines the child endangerment law while the California Penal Code 273d outlines the child abuse law. In the case of child endangerment, you may face charges, even if the child did not suffer actual harm. As long as the prosecutor proves that you intentionally exposed a child to harm, you may be guilty under PC273a. Child endangerment is a serious crime in California and often attracts detrimental consequences. If you are facing child endangerment charges, we at the Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm can help you fight the charges.
In the state of California, it is illegal to willfully or intentionally permit or cause a child to suffer unjustifiable mental suffering or physical pain. It is also unlawful to permit or allow a child in your care to suffer injuries. It is also against the law to allow a child to be placed in a dangerous situation. Acting willfully does not imply that you intended to cause harm to the child or to break the law. Acting willfully means that you were aware of your actions. It means that you acted on purpose. Exposing a child to unjustifiable pain and suffering means that you put the child through pain or suffering that was excessive under the circumstances. It means that you put the child through suffering or pain that was not reasonably necessary.
For the prosecutor to prove in court beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty of child endangerment, he/she has to prove several factors. The prosecutor has to prove that you intentionally or willfully inflicted unjustifiable mental suffering or physical pain on a child. It must also be evident that you permitted or caused a child to suffer unjustifiable mental pain or physical suffering, even if you did not personally inflict the pain. The prosecutor may also prove in court that while a child was under your custody, you allowed the child to suffer injuries. You may face charges if the prosecutor proves that while a child was under your custody, you allowed the child to be placed under a dangerous situation.
If the prosecutor proves in court that you acted under circumstances that were likely to cause great bodily injury or death to a child, you may face child endangerment charges. You may face child endangerment charges if it is evident that you were criminally negligent. You are criminally negligent if it is evident that you acted in a manner that posed a high risk of great bodily injury or death of the child. You acted in criminal negligence if, under similar circumstances, a reasonable person would have known that acting in such a manner would lead to harm to another person. You may also face charges if the prosecutor proves that while disciplining the child, you did not act reasonably.
Certain actions may comprise child endangerment. You may expose a child to a dangerous situation if you leave dangerous weapons within a child's reach. Dangerous weapons may include loaded guns, knives, and other weapons. If you negligently leave a child under the care of a persona with a history of abusive behavior, you would be exposing the child to danger or harm. You would also be exposing a child to harm if you fail to seek treatment for an injured or a sick child. It is important to note that California's child neglect law under PC 270 allows parents to seek faith healing for their children. However, if the child is very ill, it is the role of the parent to seek actual medical treatment. Relying on faith healing for a child who is very ill and at the risk of dying may attract child endangerment charges alongside other charges. You may also face charges if you tattoo a minor. If you tattoo a minor, you may also face charges under PC 653 alongside the child endangerment law.
The prosecutor may provide an additional element to prove felony child endangerment. You may face felony child endangerment if the prosecutor proves that you acted under circumstances that were likely to produce great bodily injury or death of the child. Your actions don't need to have led to death or great bodily injury of the child. It is only necessary to prove that death and great bodily injury were likely outcomes of your actions.
Acting in Criminal Negligence
According to California law, criminal negligence exceeds acting in ordinary carelessness. It is also more than failing to pay attention or making a mistake in judgment. Acting in criminal negligence implies that you acted recklessly, and you made a major or gross departure from the way an ordinary person would have acted under similar circumstances. Acting in criminal negligence also means that your actions portrayed a disregard for human life. It means that you were indifferent about the consequences of your actions to human life. Under similar circumstances, it must be evident that a reasonable person would know that acting in that manner naturally inflicts harm on others.
Any behavior that is reckless, aggravated, or gross may constitute criminal negligence. Criminal negligence constitutes behavior that goes against common sense. The standard test for criminal negligence or ordinary negligence is the way a reasonable person would have acted under the circumstances. You may be guilty of criminal negligence if you give a child a loaded gun to play with. In some instances, you may only be guilty of ordinary negligence, which comprises an error in judgment or ordinary carelessness. For example, if you leave a child alone in the house and a fire erupts, you may be guilty of ordinary negligence but not criminal negligence. While leaving the child in the house alone, you may not have foreseen the likelihood of a fire erupting. However, by giving a child a loaded gun, you must have foreseen the danger that is likely to result.
Great Bodily Injury
California law defines great bodily injury as a substantial or significant injury. Trivial, minor, or moderate injuries may not qualify as great bodily injury. The jury is responsible for identifying the existence of great bodily injury on a case to case basis. Most prosecutors are overzealous and allege great bodily injury at any opportunity they get. It is good to have an attorney by your side to prevent prosecutors from implicating you in inflicting great bodily injury on a child.
Consequences of Child Endangerment
The consequences of the crime of child endangerment vary greatly depending on several factors. Whether your actions created a risk of great bodily injury or death to a minor will determine the extent of the penalties. The prosecutor may charge the crime of child endangerment as a felony or as a misdemeanor.
Misdemeanor Child Endangerment
You may face misdemeanor child endangerment charges if your actions did not pose a risk of great bodily injury or death to the child. The penalty for misdemeanor child endangerment may include serving jail time for a period not exceeding six months. The court may also impose a fine that does not exceed $1,000.
The judge may also opt to sentence you to misdemeanor probation. Also known as summary probation or informal probation, misdemeanor probation has fewer conditions of probation than formal probation. According to California law, the minimum probation period for a crime of child endangerment is four years.
While you are on probation, you may have a restraining or protective order banning you from participating in further acts of violence. The restraining order may also prevent you from coming in contact with the child. You would have to stay away from the child, even if the child's home is also your home. Therefore, if the restraining order has a stay away provision, you may have to vacate your family home. While serving probation, you may have to complete a court-approved child abuser's treatment counseling program. The minimum period for the counseling program is one year.
If you were under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of committing the crime of child endangerment, you may have additional conditions of probation. The additional conditions may include a requirement to abstain from alcohol and drug use during the probation period. You may also be subject to random drug testing.
If the court finds that some conditions of probation would not be in the best interests of justice, the court may waive the conditions. If you comply with all the terms of probation, the court may decide to grant you an early termination of probation. You may get an early termination of probation if you comply with all the requirements of probation during the first or second year of probation.
Upon serving the probation period, you may apply for the expungement of your criminal record. You may only apply for the expungement of your record upon successfully serving the probation. In some instances, the judge may not grant your petition for expungement. The judge may deny your expungement if you violate the terms of probation.
Felony Child Endangerment
If your actions pose a risk of great bodily injury or death to a child, the offense becomes a wobbler. In deciding whether to assign misdemeanors or felony charges, the prosecutor considers the circumstances of your case. The prosecutor will also consider your criminal history if you have any.
The consequences for felony child endangerment are detrimental and exceed the penalties for misdemeanor child endangerment. For felony child endangerment, the court may impose imprisonment in a California state prison. The imprisonment period may range from two years, four years, and six years. The court may also impose a hefty fine not exceeding $10,000.
Other consequences for felony child endangerment include serving a formal or felony probation. The minimum probation period is four years. The conditions for felony probation may be similar to the conditions for misdemeanor probation. The typical conditions include attending a child abuse counseling program and adhering to a restraining or protective order. Upon completing the felony probation, you may apply for the expungement of your criminal record.
In addition to facing standard charges for felony child endangerment, you may face enhanced charges; you may receive a sentencing enhancement if a child suffers serious harm due to your negligence. The sentencing enhancement will lead to an additional and consecutive imprisonment term in a California state prison.
If you inflict actual great bodily injury on a child, you will receive an additional and consecutive three to six years enhancement of your prison term. The sentencing enhancement will depend on several factors, including the age of the victim and the nature of the injuries you inflict on the victim.
In some instances, a child may die due to criminal negligence. In this case, you may face an additional and consecutive four years to your imprisonment term in a California state prison. The prosecutor may decide to charge you with a more serious offense if a child dies due to your acts of child endangerment. Instead of charging you with child endangerment, the prosecutor may decide to charge you with involuntary manslaughter as outlined by the California Penal Code 192 (b). The prosecutor may also choose to charge you with voluntary manslaughter following the California PC 192 (a). When a child dies due to your criminal negligence, the prosecutor may also choose to charge you with second-degree murder.
According to the California Three Strikes law, a child endangerment conviction may count as a strike on your record. The offense may qualify as a strike if the victim sustains a great bodily injury. If you have a strike on your record and you commit a subsequent felony, you will become a second striker. A second striker receives double the applicable penalty for an offense. If you commit a third felony and you become a third striker, you will serve 25 years in prison.
Fighting Child Endangerment Charges
When the prosecutor accuses you of child endangerment, you do not have to agree to everything the prosecutor says. With the help of a criminal defense attorney, you can challenge the evidence of the prosecutor in court. You may look for lapses in the arrest process and use them to fight the child endangerment charges. Some of the common defenses for child endangerment charges include:
You Did Not Act Willfully, and Your Act Did Not Qualify as Criminal Negligence
For the prosecutor to accuse you of violating California PC 273a, the prosecutor has to prove that you acted on purpose and with criminal negligence. The prosecutor has to prove the two elements beyond a reasonable doubt. Your attorney can assert that you did not act on purpose. Your attorney may also assert that you did not act with criminal negligence but ordinary negligence. You have not violated the California PC 273a if you only acted with ordinary negligence.
Instilling Discipline in your Child
If you are facing child endangerment charges for exposing your child to undue pain and suffering or harm, you may point out that you were merely instilling discipline in the child. In California, parents have a right to instill discipline in their children. However, corporal punishment must be reasonable, and the parent must avoid using excessive force. Corporal punishment refers to any form of physical punishment that you inflict on the child's body.
Some of the common forms of corporal punishments include using a paddle or a belt to whip a child. Corporal punishment may also include spanking the child. It is common for parents to send children to their rooms without eating or to confine children in their rooms. This form of confinement may qualify as corporal punishment.
If your attorney can convince the judge that you were instilling discipline in your child, you may not face child endangerment charges. To prove that you were instilling discipline in your child, you must have used reasonable force under the circumstances. It must be evident that you did not use more force than was necessary.
You were Falsely Accused
You may also assert in court that you are a victim of false accusations. It is common for children to falsely accuse adults of torturing or mishandling them. For example, if you are on the verge of divorce, your partner may influence the child to make him/her accuse you falsely of child endangerment. A child may also decide to accuse you of child endangerment to get back at you, especially when the child is angry. Your child's caretaker may also accuse you of child abuse to cover up his or her abuse. The law enforcement officers are always quick to arrest any person accused of child abuse and endangerment. Therefore, many innocent people often face false accusations of child endangerment.
Your attorney can help you to fight false allegations. The attorney will first review all evidence that may prove that you are innocent. For instance, your attorney may interview people who may have witnessed the alleged child endangerment incidence. The attorney will turn every stone to unearth all the hidden facts.
Misinterpretation of a Situation
At times, an accusation of child abuse may arise when a well-meaning person misinterprets a situation. According to California law, this is termed as a mistake of fact. The state of California has a mandatory reporting law. This law requires persons like teachers, doctors, or clergies to report any form of suspected child abuse and endangerment. If the designated persons fail to report any form of abuse and child endangerment, they may face consequences under California law. Therefore, a person may feel obliged to report even the slightest suspicion of child abuse.
Another Person Endangered the Child
In cases of child endangerment, law enforcement officers and prosecutors tend to be overzealous. Often the prosecutors and the police aim at holding someone responsible when they feel that a child is in danger. Your criminal defense attorney can help defend you in court if the police are accusing you, yet you did not endanger the life or wellbeing of a child.
Several crimes associated with domestic violence in California have similar elements to the crime of child endangerment. The court may charge you with the related offenses instead of charging you with child endangerment. The court may also charge you with the related offenses in addition to child endangerment charges. Some of the related offenses include:
Child Neglect (Failure to Provide Care)
If you fail to provide physical necessities to your child, you may face child neglect charges under the California PC 270. According to California law PC 270, necessities include clothing, medical care, food, and shelter. The crime of failure to provide care is a misdemeanor under California law. The consequences for an offense under PC 270 include serving jail time of up to one year in a California county jail. You may also have to pay a fine that does not exceed $2,000. If you commit a subsequent child neglect offense, the offense may become a wobbler. In some extreme cases, you may serve imprisonment in a California state prison.
The California law makes it illegal to commit physical abuse to a child. The California Penal Code 273d outlines the crime of child abuse. For you to face child abuse charges, the child must have suffered some kind of injury, even if the injury is slight. The child does not need to have suffered a great bodily injury for you to face child abuse charges. The crime of child abuse is a wobbler under California law. The associated penalties may include serving jail time in a California county jail for not more than one year. You may also pay a hefty fine not exceeding $6,000.
If the prosecutor charges the crime of child abuse as a felony, you will face enhanced charges. The charges may include imprisonment in a California state prison. The imprisonment period may vary from two years, four years, or six years. The court may also impose a fine not exceeding $6,000.
Other related offenses include undertaking lewd acts with minor, involuntary manslaughter, and DUI with a minor, among others.
Contact an Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
If you are facing child endangerment charges, an attorney can help you through the process and assist you in coming up with a proper defense. Contact the Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm at 714-740-7848 and speak to one of our attorneys.