If you have been arrested for child endangerment in the Los Angeles area, we at The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney are ready to help you. Like all offenses involving children, child endangerment charges carry a social stigma, among other serious consequences that affect every aspect of human life. On top of serving time and paying hefty fines, you could be forced to enroll in a mandatory counseling program. Most importantly, your criminal record will be made public. That is why we invite you to seek legal help as soon as you are arrested or accused of child endangerment.
California Child Endangerment Law
California law is stringent as far as child protection is concerned. Children are vulnerable and deserve security, care, and consideration. Although endangering a child's welfare may or may not result in child abuse, it is a severe charge that carries severe consequences.
Under California PC Section 273a, the prosecutor should prove the following facts of the offense. All the elements should be proved beyond any reasonable doubt.
- You did either of the below:
- Willfully caused unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering on a child
- Willfully permitted or caused a child to suffer unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering
- While having custody or care of a minor, willfully permitted or made the child's health or person to be injured
- While having custody or care of a minor, willfully permitted or made the child to be placed in a condition where the child's health or person was in danger
- You were criminally negligent when you allowed or caused the minor to be endangered, injured, or to suffer
- If you are the minor's parent, you weren't reasonably punishing the minor
Proving Felony Endangerment
Additionally, there is another fact the prosecution should prove if you are charged with PC 273a as a California wobbler. A prosecutor should demonstrate that you acted under circumstances that would result in death or severe bodily injury.
It isn’t necessarily that the act ultimately leads to death or harm. It's only required that it is a possible result.
Legal Definitions of Terms and Phrases
To understand the legal definition of child endangerment, here is an overview of key legal terms and phrases.
According to the law, you act willfully provided that the act was executed on purpose or intentionally. It doesn't mean that you intended or purposed to cause an injury or violate the law. Instead, it means you purposely engaged in conduct that could cause harm.
For instance, Lisa is living with her new lover, James. She also has a child from her previous relationship. Whenever she leaves her child for work with James, an accident seems to occur. The baby has sustained black eyes and burns. However, Lisa has to go to work, and therefore, she leaves her child in James's care.
One evening while Lisa is away, James shakes the child until the minor dies. While James is charged with assault causing the death of the minor, Lisa is found guilty of violating PC 273a. Although she did not plan to hurt her baby or break the law, she willfully permitted a violent person to look after her child.
This element of crime goes beyond normal negligence, error in judgment, or inattention. A defendant is well-thought-out to have behaved with criminal negligence when:
- He/she acted in a careless manner that is grossly unlike how a rational, cautious individual would do in a similar situation
- The individual's conduct amounted to indifference to the consequences of their behavior or disregard for human life
- A rational individual would have been aware that acting in that manner could probably and naturally cause harm to other people
In short, your conduct is well-thought-out to be criminal negligence when it's extremely reckless, gross, or aggravated that it’s against common sense.
For instance, you could be found guilty of child endangerment if you leave hazardous chemicals at a child's reach.
Notably, if your conduct was due to ordinary inattention, error in judgment, or carelessness, it isn't criminal negligence irrespective of the penalties.
Unjustifiable Mental Suffering and Physical Pain
The term ''unjustifiable mental suffering and physical pain'' refers to pain or suffering that is either not reasonably essential or excessive under the circumstances.
Great Bodily Hurt
The law defines great bodily hurt as a substantial hurt. That means moderate, trivial, and minor injuries aren’t great bodily hurt.
The jury decides the existence of this element, depending on the case. As a result, an overzealous prosecutor will allege it every chance they get.
However, the concern isn't if the minor suffered injuries. Instead, it is whether the child was in a condition where they would sustain an injury. If the baby suffered severe bodily injuries, you are likely to face felony charges.
Sentencing, Penalties, and Consequences of Child Endangerment
The consequences of child endangerment in Los Angeles vary significantly. Often, they hinge on whether the actions caused the risk of severe bodily injury or death to the minor.
California Misdemeanor Consequences
If your conduct did not amount to the risk of death or severe bodily hurt, child endangerment offense is charged as a California misdemeanor. The charge carries the following penalties:
- Six months in jail
- $1,000 in fines
You can also be sentenced to California misdemeanor probation. Also referred to as to summary probation or informal probation, the minimum sentence you can face for a PC 273a conviction is four years.
Moreover, the probation comes with:
- A protective (restraining) order protecting the minor from more violent acts. The protective order could include stay-away provisions that ban you from contacting the minor. Also, the provisions apply to the baby's residence even when it is also your home.
- Attending a one-year child abuser's treatment counseling class
- Additional terms if you had consumed alcohol or a controlled substance during the commission of the offense. They include:
- Being ordered to abstain from controlled substance or alcohol use during your probation
- Random drug testing
Can Probation Terms be Waived, Expunged, or Terminated?
The judge may waive the probation term if they find the conditions won't be in the interests of justice.
Additionally, the judge can grant an early termination of probation if you adhere to all terms and conditions for the first two years.
Your criminal record can also be sealed or dismissed after you successfully complete your probationary period. An expungement will release you from the negative consequences that come with a child endangerment conviction for most purposes.
However, the judge has the discretion to deny your expungement petition as long as you:
- Committed a probation violation, or
- Failed to follow all probation terms and conditions.
PC 273a would be a wobbler if there was a risk of death or serious bodily injury to the victim. You can be charged with either a California felony or misdemeanor depending primarily on:
- The facts of the accusations, and
- Criminal history.
A California felony conviction carries:
- A two (2), four (4) or six (6) year sentence and
- A maximum of ten thousand dollars in fines.
Alternatively, you could be sentenced to a four-year felony (formal) probation. The terms and conditions of this probation are the same, as discussed above.
It is also possible to have your felony probation expunged, as mentioned above.
Severe Bodily Hurt Enhancement
On top of the felony consequences, you could face a sentence enhancement. The enhancement applies in case the victim is severely injured as a result of your criminal negligence.
The enhancement will cause an additional and consecutive term in prison as below:
If the minor died because of your criminal negligence, you are likely to face an additional and consecutive four years
If you personally caused severe bodily hurt on the victim, you will face an additional and consecutive three to six years, hinging on the injuries' nature and the minor's age.
Manslaughter or Murder Punishment
In extreme instances, the prosecution could charge a defendant with more severe charges if a child passes away due to child endangerment. The charges could include:
- Voluntary manslaughter (PC 192(a))
- Involuntary manslaughter (PC 192(b))
- Second-degree murder (PC 18)
Three Strikes Law
A California felony conviction is a strike under three strikes' law. It's a strike in case the victim sustained severe bodily injury.
You are considered a second striker if you have a strike on your record and subsequently convicted with another felony. Your sentence will be double the term otherwise required by law.
If you are accused of violating a California felony law for a third time, and you have two previous strike convictions, you will be deemed a third striker. That means you will serve a mandatory sentence of twenty-five (25) years to life imprisonment.
How to Fight Penal Code 273a PC Charge?
There are several legal defenses that an experienced criminal defense attorney can use to beat a child endangerment charge. They could be a failure to follow search and seizure laws, among other categories of police officer misconduct.
Moreover, there are legal defenses that exclusively apply to PC 273a charges.
A Parent was Reasonably Disciplining Their Child
A parent in California is entitled to discipline his/her babies through corporal punishment. The term corporal punishment refers to the punishment that is imposed on the child's body or physical punishment. The punishment could be:
- Disciplining the minor with a paddle
- Confining your child to their room
- Asking the child to go to bed without taking their dinner
Your Conduct didn't Amount to Criminal Negligence or Was Not Willful
To find you guilty of child endangerment, the prosecutor should present evidence that you acted with criminal negligence or willfully. There are numerous ways your attorney can create sufficient doubt for the acquittal verdict (not guilty).
For example, your defense attorney can argue that the injuries were as a result of ordinary negligence or accident. In that case, you cannot be found guilty of violating California child endangerment law.
One of the leading causes of PC 273a cases is false allegations. Sometimes a child could make false accusations after being controlled by one parent. Ex-spouses make false accusations out of anger, revenge, jealousy, or to gain an advantage in a child custody case, or maybe the child is annoyed or is seeking the attention of the parent. Often, this happens when the parent is having a new partner or after a divorce.
Additionally, a baby's caregiver may make false allegations as a way of covering up their abuse.
Whatever the reason, the outcome is similar. Law enforcers do not want to be held accountable for overlooking possible injury to a minor. Therefore, they will put any person accused in police custody.
So how will your lawyer fight the false allegations?
First, your criminal defense attorney will analyze all proof that will prove your innocence. It could be interviewing witnesses at the crime scene. Also, the attorney will interview people in your life for evidence that you are a responsible caregiver or parent.
Hinging on the accusations, the attorney will get criminal records, employment records, and school records of all potentially accountable persons.
Finally, the attorney will go through the social networks of the minor and all persons involved.
In other words, your skilled lawyer will get exculpatory evidence.
Mistake of Fact
Another valid legal defense your attorney can use is the mistake of fact. The mistake of fact happens when child endangerment allegations are made because of a well-meaning individual misinterpreted a situation.
Mandatory reporting law makes the problem worse. Professionals like the clergy, teachers, school administrators, nurses, social workers, and doctors are lawfully supposed to report a suspected violation of PC 273a law to the police. Otherwise, they will be charged with a California misdemeanor. They could even be sentenced to jail. As a result, the professionals will report every child endangerment suspicion without understanding the extent of the circumstances involved.
Another Person Endangered the Minor
Overzealous prosecution team and police will always hold a person responsible whenever a minor is in danger. As a result, they are quick to conclude who is accountable.
Related Offenses to California PC 273a
Many domestic violence offenses have the same elements as child endangerment. Sometimes these crimes are charged instead of or together with child endangerment. They include:
Lewd or Lascivious Act with a Child
PC 288 prohibits any form of an inappropriate touch of a child. It's charged when you touch a minor with a sexual aim, and the child is:
- Below fourteen years, or
- Aged fourteen (14) or fifteen (15) if you are at least ten years older than the minor
Consequences for Penal Code Section 288 depend mainly on the following factors:
- The minor's age
- Whether you are the minor's caretaker
- The difference in age between you and the alleged victim
The offense in question attracts ten thousand dollars in fines and several years in state prison.
Child Neglect (Failure to Offer Care)
Penal Code Section 270 PC is a less severe crime. It is charged when parents fail to offer physical supplies to their children. For the purposes of this article, necessities include medical care, clothing, shelter, and food. However, you aren't guilty of child neglect if (through not your fault), you can't afford the necessities.
In most instances, child neglect is charged as a misdemeanor. It carries penalties like a maximum fine of two thousand dollars and a year jail sentence.
However, subsequent child neglect convictions could be filed as a California wobbler. It attracts penalties like one year and one day in state prison.
Child Abuse (PC 273d)
Under PC 273d (child abuse), it is illegal to direct physical abuse at a child. Child abuse doesn't require severe bodily hurt. However, there should be some hurt irrespective of how small the injury triggers the charge.
Violation of PC 273a is a California wobbler. If filed as a California misdemeanor, you will serve a year in jail and pay six thousand dollars in fines. A felony attracts a maximum of six thousand dollars in fines and two (2), four (4), or six (6) years in state prison.
Another offense commonly charged alongside child endangerment is driving under the influence. This happens when you are arrested for driving under the influence with a child in your car as a passenger.
The prosecution team could choose to charge DUI as a PC 273a enhancement. The number of days the enhancement increases to your DUI sentence depend on whether you have previous drunk driving convictions.
Moreover, the law requires motorists with infants to use child restraint systems.
Charges Involving a Child's Death
If the child succumbed to child endangerment, the prosecution might file one of the following charges instead of, or together with PC 273a:
Child Abuse Causing Death of a Child Below Eight Years
A defendant is likely to be convicted of Penal Code Section 273ab if:
- They had custody and care of a minor below eight years
- They assaulted the child through ways likely to lead to severe bodily injury
- The child became comatose or paralyzed or succumbed to the injuries
Depending mainly on the type of injury, Penal Code 273ab attracts a twenty-five year or life sentence in California state prison.
Murdering a minor with an intent to kill or malice is considered as murder (PC 187). It's punished as a second-degree murder if the killing was willful but was not premeditated and deliberate. On the contrary, you will be charged with first-degree murder if the act is premeditated and intentional.
Typically, murder charges originate from PC 273a in either of the following:
- Due to felony-murder rule
- Presence of implied malice
There is malice in felony-murder when a person kills somebody else while committing a California felony. Implied malice, on the other hand, exists when you engage in extremely reckless conduct that you are aware will put somebody else's life in danger. It's a higher level of guilt compared to criminal negligence.
Usually, both situations are charged as second-degree murder. Consequences for second-degree murder include a fifteen year to life imprisonment.
When criminal negligence causes death, it could be charged as involuntary manslaughter (Penal Code Section 192b PC). Different from murder, manslaughter doesn't involve malice.
Often the kind of manslaughter convicted together with PC 273a cases is involuntary manslaughter. It's convicted when the demise of a child is due to either:
- The commission of an illegal act which is not a felony
- You engaged in a legal but dangerous conduct without due care
Furnishing Dangerous Fireworks to a Child
Finally, another offense charged alongside child endangerment is Health and Safety Code 12702 HS. It is an offense to deliver, give, or sell dangerous fireworks like huge sparklers and rockets to a child below eighteen years of age.
Violation of this law is a misdemeanor, which is punishable by:
- A maximum of a year in jail
- Fines that range between $500 and $1,000
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Reasonable Discipline?
In California, a parent is allowed to discipline their children, provided that the discipline is reasonable. The reasonableness of the discipline is determined by whether the punishment was necessary and excessive under the given circumstances.
The judge will analyze your case's circumstances to decide whether the disciplinary act constitutes reasonable discipline.
For instance, a judge can conclude that using a huge wooden stick to punish your minor is not reasonable. On the contrary, spanking your child using your open hand could be reached to be reasonable.
How Old Should a Minor Be To Left at Home Alone?
The law doesn't specify when a minor below eighteen years of age should be left at home alone. Nonetheless, if you are criminally negligent in leaving your child alone and the minor sustains mental suffering or physical injury, you could be arrested for PC 273a.
Your Child was Hurt While a Relative, Neighbor, or Friend was Watching Them. Could You be Found Guilty of Child Endangerment?
Often, the answer is no. If a parent leaves their child in the care of a loved one, and the child is hurt, the parent can't be found responsible. Nevertheless, the parent could be held criminally negligent if they knowingly left their child in the care of a sex offender, and the minor was molested.
Find a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me
A PC 273a charge is subjectively analyzed with quick judgments by those tasked with determining the fate of a defendant. This could lead to wrong accusations of violating Penal Code Section 273a and the possibility of facing criminal penalties. Moreover, you will find yourself facing social stigma. Fortunately, you can reach out to one of the experienced lawyers at The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney at 310-564-2605 for help. We will not only protect your legal rights but also stand with you throughout the process.