Penal Code 273d is California's law against corporal injury on a minor. This law defines child abuse as any singular act or a series of actions done or not done for a child by their parent or caregiver that jeopardizes the wellbeing of the child. For instance, beating a child in the name of discipline (commission) or intentionally denying a child food (omission). Other people in the custodial role of a child, such as teachers or religious leaders in Sunday school can also perpetrate child abuse.
If you are accused of child abuse and neglect (CAN), these criminal charges could lead to lengthy incarceration. The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney has prepared this informative article on various forms of child abuse, and their corresponding legal implications.
Statistics on Child Abuse
While child abuse is preventable, reports indicate that millions of children are subjected to various forms of violence. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 683,000 victims of child abuse and neglect in 2015 alone. The youngest children are most susceptible to child abuse as compared to older children. Statistics indicated that roughly 27.7% of reported cases involve children under three years, and this situation is alarming.
The CDC, public health officials, and prevention practitioners are up in arms to address this scourge, and they are doing everything they can to catch such parents and caregivers. The state's mandatory reporting laws require that people who work closely with children to report abuse. These professionals include educators, social workers, daycare workers, etc.
Acts of Commission vs. Acts of Omission
Acts of commission and acts of omission are so pervasive that as per 2017 estimates, one in seven children were reportedly abused. Nevertheless, the CDC is wary of gross underreporting of these cases that could mean more children are always in danger, and things could get worse. Abused children suffer the negative impacts of these actions as they develop and reaching their full potential in adulthood seems far-fetched.
Acts of Omission refer to the refusal or failure to avail a child's elementary needs, such as keeping them safe from imminent danger or potential harm. Examples of these acts of omission are insufficient supervision, physical neglect, medical neglect, educational neglect, exposure to harmful situations, and emotional neglect. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) also fall under child abuse and neglect.
What are the Penalties for Child Abuse?
Child abuse can happen in many ways, and the different forms of violence attract corresponding punishment. On the whole, corporate injury on a minor is considered a wobbler, and therefore, the prosecutor can charge it as a misdemeanor or felony offense. The specific type of abuse, how it happened, and your criminal history are the key determinants here.
If you are charged with a misdemeanor of child abuse, you will serve a sentence of up to one year in county jail or pay a fine of up to $6,000. Sometimes, both punishments apply.
If you are charged with felony child abuse, you will serve a sentence of four to six years in jail. You will also get an extra four years if you have been charged with felony child abuse in the past ten years. The judge may also require you to pay a fine of up to $6,000.
In some cases, the judge may sentence you to summary probation (for a misdemeanor) or formal punishment (for a felony). The conditions for probation sentences are as follows:
- Compulsory probation of at least three years
- Protective order to prevent more contact with the child
- Attend a child abuse treatment program for a minimum one year
What are the Various Forms of Child Abuse?
We shall now look at the specific examples of child abuse and neglect, how they occur, and the legal implications of these accusations.
- Physical Abuse - Penal Code Section 273(d)
Physical child abuse refers to any damages inflicted on a minor due to acts of aggression. It could be through kicking, shoving, biting, pulling hair, choking, burning, shaking, etc. Severe physical punishment in the name of discipline can harm them as well. Even when the caregiver did not set out to harm the child, injuries encountered this way are deemed as child abuse.
There are other exceptional cases of physical child abuse, such as taking drugs and alcohol when pregnant or nursing a newborn. Children born to addicts usually present withdrawal symptoms such as getting the shakes, and they could have brain damage or poor development.
Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome (MPS) is yet another example where a parent may convince people that their child is ailing, and so they are subjected to unnecessary treatments. This psychological disorder leads parents or caregivers to seek attention by exaggerating or fabricating the symptoms of children under their care.
Caregivers with MPS appear to be very concerned about their child's wellbeing, but they are working covertly to make doctors believe the child is sick. For instance, they may tamper with urine samples or induce symptoms by starving the child or exposing them to infections.
There are many reasons why a parent or caregiver may use undue force when handling a child. Substance abuse, mental health problems, financial constraints, unemployment, bad relationships, etc. are some of the common reasons that pave the way for physical child abuse. In these scenarios, the aggressor may be in dire need of help so they can become a better parent. For instance, an addict needs rehabilitation so they can stop abusing alcohol and other chemical substances.
If you are accused of physically abusing your child, you are facing time in prison, and you could forfeit your parental rights. A family court judge may assign visitation but only in the presence of a social worker or another court-appointed person. The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney is equipped with qualified lawyers who have handled tons of such cases and helped clients get the best possible outcome. Our goal is to keep you out of prison, so you have not deemed an unfit parent.
Physical abuse can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, each with different legal consequences. These crimes attract a one-year sentence in county jail while offenses attract a sentence anywhere between 2 to 6 years in state prison.
- Deprivation of Custody – PC 278.5
Penal Code 278.5 covers denial of custody where the non-custodial parent denies the custodial parent access to their child. It can also happen when a custodial parent refuses or interferes with the visitation schedule of the non-custodial parent. These cases are prevalent after hostile divorce as warring partners use their children to hurt each other.
This wobbler can either be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony. If you are charged with misdemeanor deprivation of custody, the judge will sentence you to up to one year in county jail. You may also be required to pay $1,000 in fines. A felony conviction of this nature attracts these penalties:
- Jail sentence of 18 months, two, or three years
- Fines of up to $10,000
- Refunding the victim and government for their attempts to return the minor
- Emotional/ Psychological Abuse
This form of abuse refers to any action that inflicts emotional pain on a child, and it can entail evoking fear, humiliating, or isolating a child. Psychological abuse happens in many ways, including some unbecoming behavior that is socially accepted in some cultures even here in this country. Here are a few examples of emotional abuse:
- Humiliating a child routinely
- Calling them names, mocking them, or shouting at them
- Exposing a child to traumatic events like domestic squabbles
- Pushing the child too hard, e.g., in academics
- Generally being absent from a child's life
Unlike physical abuse, the signs of emotional abuse are not so apparent, and the victim may wallow in pain without letting their abuser or anyone else know. When the violation is unrelenting and perhaps coupled with other forms of child abuse and neglect, the child may present these symptoms:
- They struggle to manage emotions and may have anger outbursts
- They find trouble establishing and nurturing relationships
- Aggression or cruelty toward other children
- Overly warm and affectionate to strangers
- Be racked with anxiety and other emotional disorders
No matter who is to blame for the alleged emotional abuse, it is imperative that you speak to an attorney immediately so they can examine your case. Abusive parents are not usually deemed fit for the demanding job of parenting, and the judge could rule against you. The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney is experienced in handling such cases, and we are more than happy to litigate your case.
- Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse refers to actions that persuade or force minors to participate in sexual activity such as touching private parts, intercourse, kissing, etc. This form of abuse is widespread even among children who are too young to fathom what is happening. California law stipulates that engaging in any sex-related activity with minor constitutes of child abuse even when there is no violence or force.
More specifically, sexual abuse of children can happen in these ways:
- Rubbing, touching, directly or indirectly atop the child's clothes
- Exposing your genitals to a child
- Watching pornographic material with a child
- Asking a child to watch you engage in sexual activity
- Preparing a child for sexual activity, e.g., grooming them for prostitution
Sexual abuse of minors is a despicable act that keeps happening even in industrialized countries where there are laws and policies to prevent this. People who wish to forward claims of sexual abuse of children are not required to present proof. They can dial any of the child abuse hotlines in Los Angeles County within or outside the state, or file a claim at ReportChildAbuse.org.
The California Penal Code outlaws any of the above actions as per the following statutes:
- Penal Code Section 288(a) – Vulgar acts with a minor under 14 years
- Penal Code Section 288(b) – Vulgar acts with a child through intimidation
- Penal Code Section 288.7 – Having sexual intercourse with a child below 10
- Penal Code Section 647.6 – Molesting a person below 18 years
- Penal Code Section 288.4 – Soliciting a minor for sexual acts
- Penal Code Section 288(c) – Lascivious behavior a child 14 or 15 years
- Penal Code Section 288.5 – Relentless sexual abuse of a minor
- Penal Code Section 290 – Sex offender registration
If you are facing sexual abuse charges under any of these statutes, the prosecution has the burden to prove certain things beyond a reasonable doubt. For example, that you intended to harm the child or you had no idea the person was below 18 years. They also need to prove that a minor with unnatural sexual interest triggered your actions or you were seeking sexual gratification, among other things.
Sexual intercourse with a child can be a misdemeanor if the victim is not more than three years than the abuser, and it is punishable by one year in the county jail. If the age gap between the minor and the perpetrator is more than three years, the act is tried as a felony and is punishable by one year in the county jail. Alternatively, the perpetrator will spend 16 months to four years in state prison, but they are not subject to registering with the sex offender database
Legal Consequences of Child Sexual Abuse
Lewd behavior or molestation acts are considered as felonies and falls under California's Three Strikes Law. You could get a prison sentence of 3 - 16 years, register as a permanent sex offender, and cater to the psychological treatment of the victim for life.
Molestation by way of force attracts a sentence of 5 – 10 years in state prison. Bearing child pornographic material can either be treated as a misdemeanor (one year in county jail) or as a felony (16 months – 3 years in prison).
- Child Neglect – California Penal Code 270 PC
PC 270 defines child neglect as a failure to provide necessary care to a child without a legitimate reason. This law establishes a parent as anyone who presents themselves as parents and adoptive parents. Any husband to a woman who has a child when they are living together is also a parent. Any person who relinquishes their rights to parenting or these rights are lawfully denied is not considered a parent.
As per the Child Welfare Information Gateway, it is more rampant than both sexual and physical abuse. Unlike other types of abuse, child neglect is not always noticeable as it entails acts of omission as opposed to acts of commission.
Neglect can be of three kinds; physical neglect such as refusing to provide food, clean clothing, a safe and clean home, etc. Emotional abandonment occurs when a caregiver denies child love and affection or refuses to fulfill their psychological needs. Penal Code 270.1(a) covers educational neglect where the parent fails to enroll a child into school or failure to monitor attendance.
There are sure warning signs that are indicative of the three forms of child neglect:
- Wearing ill-fitting, dirty, or inappropriate clothing
- Physical injuries and not getting medical treatment
- Spending hours unsupervised within or outside the home
- Poor hygiene and grooming practices
- Unexplained absences from school
What are the Penalties for Child Neglect?
Neglecting a minor is usually charged as a misdemeanor, and according to California law, the parent or guardian can serve up to one year in jail. They may also be asked to pay fines of up to $1,000 or a combination of both punishments.
In extreme cases, child neglect can be classified as a felony, such as when a parent blatantly refuses to care for a minor after being ordered by a court. An example of felony child neglect is when a father has been determined the biological parent of a child but still refuses to care for them. PC 270 outlines the penalties for felony neglect as follows:
- Jail sentence of up to one year or one year and a day in prison
- Fine of up to $2,000
The judge could also demand you serve probation (summary or formal) in place of jail time. You will be required to attend parenting classes failure to which the judge will call for a hearing to discuss probation violation. If you cannot justify these actions, the judge will sentence you to jail.
As your attorneys, we can argue you were falsely accused of neglecting the child, or you did not do so willfully. Lack of financial capacity to care for the child is yet another legal defense. If the child was sick, we could argue you were not aware, or you provided care through prayer as per your faith.
- Child Endangerment - Penal Code 273a PC
Penal Code 273a is the state's child endangerment law, and it does not require evidence of physical injury on the minor. This law decriminalizes placing children in situations that may jeopardize their health, such as leaving a child under the care of an alcoholic person neighbor.
Other examples of endangerment include taking drugs in the presence of children or causing unjustifiable physical pain. Leaving firearms or other dangerous objects, tattooing a child or leaving them with abusive babysitters also count as child endangerment and are punishable by law.
Child endangerment can be charged as a misdemeanor or as a felony. Misdemeanor child endangerment attracts one-year county jail and a fine of up to $1,000. If the minor suffered great bodily harm or they nearly died due to this endangerment, the crime is tried as a felony. The penalties are as follows:
- Prison sentence of two, four, or six years
- Monetary fines of up to $10,000
The judge may sentence you to formal or summary probation, which means you won't serve jail time. Nonetheless, you will have to attend counseling sessions, submit to drug testing, and oblige to a restraining order barring you from the minor.
The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney will help you fend off these charges. We can put forward that you were disciplining your child or you did not intentionally put the minor in harm's way.
- Child Abduction – Penal Code 278
Child abduction refers to maliciously removing a minor from their parent or guardian. This law is associated with PC 287, which is California's law against kidnapping, only that the victim changes. In a kidnapping case, the child is the victim while in a child abduction case, the parent of the minor becomes the victim.
What are the Penalties for Child Abduction?
Child abduction is another wobbler, which means it can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on mitigating circumstances. If the prosecutor charges this crime as a misdemeanor, you will spend up to one year in county jail or pay a fine of up to $1,000. Felony child abduction comes with these penalties:
- Jail sentence of two, three, or four years
- Fine of up to $1,000
- Restitution to the victim and law enforcement for locating the stolen child
- Killing a Child – Penal Code 187
Willfully causing the death of a child is charged as murder under California penal code 187. First-degree murder applied when the crime was premeditated while second-degree murder applies if the death was not intentional.
Penal Code 192(b) explains that when criminal negligence results in the death of a minor; the crime is deemed as involuntary manslaughter. For instance, when a parent denies medical attention to an ailing child who eventually succumbs to the disease.
If the prosecutor can prove malicious intent, you will be charged with felony murder, and this act carries more culpability than negligence. Felony murder attracts a sentence of 15 years in state prison.
Finding Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
As you can see in this article, child abuse happens in many ways, and the law is not kind to people who are accused of abusing a child. Any action that triggers harmful consequences to a minor, visible or invisible, is considered unlawful regardless of intent. The California Penal Code provides various statutes for sexual abuse of children and contravening these laws could mean spending years behind bars.
Apart from parents and caregivers, children can be abused at the hands of religious people, teachers, extended family, and neighbors. Whatever the scenario, being charged with child abuse is a weighty issue that requires the best criminal defense attorney. Contact The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney at 424-333-0943 so we can determine the best possible line of defense to address these charges.