In most cases, child abuse and child endangerment are used interchangeably. However, according to the law, these two are distinct crimes punished under different statutes. Child abuse is charged under California Penal Code 273(d). Child abuse involves inflicting pain or subjecting the child to cruel physical treatment that results in a traumatic injury. According to California law, certain professionals must report child abuse to the authorities if they notice evidence of the vice on the child. Child abuse is comprehensive and includes any willful action that results in the child's injury.
On the other hand, under California Penal Code 273(a), child endangerment involves exposing a child under 18 to conditions that may cause injury or harm. Under the law, you do not have to be the child’s parents or have custody of the child. The court can find you liable for the crime provided you place a child in danger of injury or death no matter your relationship with the child. The prosecution can charge you with the crime even if the child is not harmed. The prosecution does not have to prove you physically harmed the child to charge you with child endangerment, unlike child abuse.
The best way to understand how child endangerment is different from child abuse is to focus on each crime individually. Below you will learn the difference between the elements of the two crimes, the penalties for each crime, and the various defenses you can present for each of the charges.
What The Prosecution Needs To Prove To Convict You Of Child Endangerment In California
Under California law, the prosecution must prove various elements of the crime to charge you with child endangerment. The prosecution must prove that:
- You inflicted unjustifiable pain on the child or caused them unjustifiable mental suffering.
- You allowed the child to undergo mental suffering or physical pain.
- You caused or permitted the child to suffer a personal injury while under your care or custody.
- You placed the child’s health or person in danger while under your control, care or supervision.
- You were criminally negligent when you caused the child to suffer injury or be endangered.
- You were not reasonably disciplining the child when you endangered them if you were their guardian or parent.
The prosecution can charge the crime as a misdemeanor or a felony in California. The prosecution must prove your actions could result in significant bodily injury or cause the child’s death for the court to charge the crime as a wobbler. Remember, the prosecution only needs to prove that injury and death were possible outcomes of your activities to charge you with child endangerment.
Various Elements of a Child Endangerment Crime
Willfully “Meaning” Under California Penal Code 273a(
)Under the law, you commit the offense of child endangerment willfully if you intentionally expose the child to danger that could cause injury or death.
For Example, You have an eight-year-old child and have to work two jobs to make ends meet. Due to your tight schedule, you leave your child with your neighbor. However, you start to realize various injuries on your child. One day, the child has a black eye, and the other day, the child has a broken ankle. However, you have to work, and you do not have an option but to leave the child with your neighbor. One afternoon, your neighbor hits your kid on the head, and they suffer serious injury. The prosecution can charge you with child endangerment for leaving your child with an abusive neighbor. Even if you did not intentionally break the law, you willfully left your child in the care of your neighbor, whom you knew was abusive.
“Unjustifiable Mental Suffering And Physical Pain,” Meaning
Under statute 273a, unjustifiable mental suffering and physical pain mean that you caused unnecessary pain or mental suffering to the child, or the pain and suffering you caused was excessive under the prevailing circumstances.
Criminal Negligence Meaning
Under the statute, criminal negligence is more than ordinary carelessness or making a mistake in judgment. In California, the prosecution can prove criminal negligence when you act more carelessly than an average person would react in the same situation. Your actions were indifferent to the safety of human life, and a reasonable person would not have acted in the manner you acted. Under the law, you are criminally negligent if you act in a manner that beats common sense.
For example, you have a ten-year-old girl who is very active. One day, your child walks dangerously close to the ledge of your apartment. You stop them by yelling at them to step down from the ledge, but they ignore your warnings. Fearing for their safety, you run over and pull off the child from the ledge. However, in the process, the child injures their leg badly. Although you caused pain to your child, your actions were necessary to protect the child from a worse injury. In such a case, the court cannot charge you with criminal negligence since you acted in a manner a reasonable person would in such a case.
What Does Great Bodily Injury Mean Under The Statute?
Under the law, the prosecution can charge you with causing great bodily harm if your actions result in significant physical injury. In California, minor or mild injuries are not considered great bodily harm. The jury will determine if the injury caused significant bodily injury depending on the circumstances of the case. Under child endangerment law, the court will consider whether you placed a child in a situation where they could suffer significant bodily injury. The prosecution would charge the offense as a felony if you did so.
Legal Definition Of Child Abuse Under California Law
California Penal Code 273a criminalizes child endangerment, while California Penal Code 273d criminalizes child abuse statute. In California, the prosecution will charge you with child abuse if you inflict physical pain through corporal punishment and the punishment causes a traumatic condition. Unlike child endangerment, you have to cause physical harm to the child for the court to charge you for child abuse.
Various Elements Of Child Abuse Offense
Under the law, corporal punishment means hurting the child physically rather than causing emotional hurt. According to the law, a traumatic condition means causing a wound through physical force.
For example, you have a headstrong teenage boy who is doing drugs. You burst into his room one lunch hour and find him smoking marijuana. You strike him with your fist out of anger. Unfortunately, the boy falls and injures his head, and you have to rush him to the emergency room. Although the court may not charge you with child abuse for the boy hitting his head on the floor, the prosecution may charge you for hitting the boy with your fist. However, if you only intended to hit the wall behind the boy but hit him instead, the court may not charge you with child abuse because you intended to scare the kid and not cause any physical injury.
Under the law, child abuse involves physically causing injury to a child under eighteen years. Various examples of child abuse include hitting, shaking, punching, pushing, slapping, kicking, burning, choking, or throwing an object at the child. The court can charge you with the crime if you engage in any activity that can physically hurt the child.
Understanding If Spanking Is Considered Child Abuse In California
Usually, the law does not consider spanking as child abuse. However, the prosecution can charge spanking as child abuse if you do not do it for disciplinary purposes or spank the child excessively, either with your bare hand or with an object. However, the jury will consider the circumstances of the case and decide if the spanking, whether by hand or by an object, was excessive.
Can The Prosecution Use Acts Of Former Child Abuse In Your Current Case Of Child Abuse?
Unlike child endangerment, the prosecution can use evidence from previous cases to strengthen their child abuse case against you as the defendant.
In California, the prosecution can use prior acts of child abuse in a current child abuse case even if the previous actions did not result in a conviction. The judge can allow the prosecution to use the evidence from your previous charges if the judge deems the evidence relevant to the present case. The prosecution uses any prior child abuse convictions to establish that you tend to abuse children. However, the judge usually conducts a hearing to verify the evidence's legitimacy and decide if it is admissible to your current case.
At the hearing, the judge will consider whether the presentation of the preceding evidence will lead to the jury becoming prejudiced. The judge will also consider the time difference between the former and current charges. Under the law, the prosecution cannot use evidence from previous charges if ten years have elapsed between your last and current charges.
Can The Prosecution Introduce Evidence of Past Domestic Violence Acts In Your Current Case Of Child Abuse?
In California, the law allows the prosecution to introduce evidence of prior acts of domestic violence in your current child abuse case in some cases. However, the prosecution can only introduce these charges in certain circumstances. The prosecution can introduce former acts of domestic violence in your current case if your existing charges are against your child. Or the child you have abused lives with you regularly.
Or the child used to live with you regularly. You must also have committed the domestic abuse offense in the last five years. Domestic violence must have involved your spouse, the parent of your child, a girlfriend or boyfriend with whom you used to live together, or a person with whom you were in a serious relationship. The judge will hold a hearing to determine if the prosecution can introduce the past domestic violence charges in your current child abuse case. At the hearing, the judge will consider if the evidence will prejudice the jury against you and if the evidence shows a pattern of violence.
For example, you live with your fiancé, who has children from a previous relationship. One year ago, the court charged your fiancé with corporal injury against his wife. But the prosecution did not pursue the charges after the husband and wife reconciled. Now, your husband is facing child endangerment charges. After the hearing, the judge decides the evidence used in the corporal injury charge is admissible in the current case and states the evidence is relevant to the current case and would not prejudice the jury against your husband. However, prior evidence on its own is insufficient to convict you of your current offense. The court admits it to help the jury reach a verdict on the present case.
Penalties For Child Endangerment And Child Abuse Charges In California
Although child abuse and child endangerment charges are closely related, their penalties differ. Below are the penalties for each offense as stipulated under California law.
Under What Circumstances Does The Prosecution Charge The Offense As Child Endangerment As A Misdemeanor?
Under the law, the prosecution will charge the offense of child endangerment as a misdemeanor if your actions could not lead to great bodily harm or death to the child. If the court charges the offense as a misdemeanor, the judge can sentence you to up to six months in county jail and charge you a maximum fine of $1,000 or both. The court can also sentence you to summary probation. The minimum probation duration of a child endearment charge is four years.
The court may also attach other conditions to the probation. Some of these conditions include issuing a protective order. The order may consist of a stay-away order which prohibits you from contacting the child or venturing near the child’s residence, even if it's your own house. You will also have to undergo a one-year child abuser’s program. The judge may also order you to refrain from drugs and alcohol if you were under the influence during the commission of the offense. The judge may also order random drug and alcohol testing.
Under What Circumstances Does The Prosecution Charge The Offense As Child Endangerment As A Felony?
In California, the court can charge the offense as a wobbler if your actions exposed the child to great bodily harm or death. The prosecution’s decision to charge the offense as a felony or misdemeanor will depend on the circumstances of the case and your criminal history. If the court charges the offense as a felony, the judge can sentence you to two, three, or six years in state prison. The court can also charge you a maximum penalty of $10,000 or both. The court can also sentence you to felony probation for a minimum of four years.
Penalties For Child Abuse According To The Law
In California, unlike child endangerment, child abuse is a wobbler offense, and the court does not have to consider whether your actions could lead to great bodily harm or the victim's death. Under the law, the prosecution will consider the circumstances of the case and your criminal record to determine whether they will charge the offense as a felony or misdemeanor. The trial will usually charge child abuse as a minor offense if the injury is not severe. The court sets the offense as a felony if the child abuse was overly cruel, you caused grievous damage to the child, or you have a history of child abuse.
Child Abuse Penalties If The Prosecution Charges The Offense As A Misdemeanor?
Unlike child endangerment, a misdemeanor punishment for child abuse involves a one-year sentence to county jail. The court may also charge you a maximum penalty of $6000. The court may also sentence you to summary probation.
Child Abuse Penalties If The Prosecution Charge The Offense As A Felony?
If the court charges the offense as a felony, the judge may sentence you to two, four, or six years in state prison. The court can also charge you a maximum fine of $6,000 or both.
Aggravating Factors That May Increase Your Jail Term For A Child Abuse Conviction
Your prison sentence for a child abuse conviction increases by four years if the court has ever convicted you of child abuse in California. However, you are exempt from this rule if the charge was more than ten years ago and you served time for your crime. You are also exempt from this rule if you have not been convicted and jailed for any felony offense in the last ten years.
Probation For Child Abuse Charge In California
The court can sentence you to probation instead of jail time. The judge can sentence you to either a summary or formal probation. However, probation comes with various conditions, which you must follow to the letter. The minimum duration for child abuse probation is three years, unlike child endangerment probation, where the minimum probation duration is four years. The requirements for child abuse probation would include reporting to a probation officer regularly, a stay-away order to protect the child from further abuse, and random drug and alcohol tests if you were under the influence during the commission of the offense.
Call A Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me
The consequences of child abuse or child endangerment conviction are colossal. The court may charge you hefty fines, sentence you to probation, issue a stay-away order, or send you to prison. Therefore, it's critical to seek the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney to help you fight these charges.
At The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney, we are a top-tier criminal defense law firm. If you or your loved one has been charged with child abuse or endangerment, please contact us at 310-564-2605 for a free consultation with our experienced criminal defense attorneys.