Child abuse allegations are common in California. The most worrying trend about these situations is the dramatic change in the family relationship after the child abuse case. Under California Penal Code 273(d), you commit a crime of child abuse when you inflict cruel or inhuman corporal punishment on a minor resulting in an injury. Child abuse laws protect children from abuse from their caregivers’ actions or failure to act. 

Although you have a right to nurture and discipline your child, there is a limit to the amount of force you can use against the child, or you risk facing child abuse charges. Since children are among the vulnerable groups in society, these cases attract sympathy from everyone. This translates to aggressive prosecution and severe punishments for a defendant. 

Multiple aspects of your life are at stake if you face criminal charges for child abuse. Therefore, you must start fighting the charges as soon as possible. At California Criminal Lawyer Group, we offer top-notch legal guidance and representation for all our clients battling child abuse charges in Anaheim, CA.

Overview of California Penal Code 273(d)

Under California PC 273, child abuse is when you inflict either of the following on a child under eighteen years:

  • Inhuman corporal punishment
  • An injury that results in a traumatic condition

When proving your liability under this statute, the prosecution must prove the following elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt:

You Willfully Inflicted Inhuman Physical Punishment or Injury on a Child

The law considers your actions willful if you acted purposively or deliberately. It is crucial to understand that you could face a child abuse conviction even when your willful actions were not aimed at violating the law or causing harm to the minor. The most important thing when proving this element is that you unintentionally commit the cruel act against the child.

While the legal term of cruel punishment is not clearly defined under California law, the jury will consider any of the following acts as abusive towards a child:

  • Shaking a child forcefully in a manner that is likely to cause brain damage
  • Throwing items at a child
  • Hitting or slapping a child with a force that leaves a mark
  • Choking, pushing, or punching a minor
  • Inflicting cigarette burns on the child
  • Throwing a child across the room

The Injury or Punishment Caused a Traumatic Condition

Under Child abuse laws, a traumatic condition is any severe or minor wound resulting from excessive force application. The prosecutor must prove that the injury or condition could not have occurred without your cruel actions.

When you Acted, you were Not Disciplining the Child

California law allows you to discipline your child through corporal punishment. However, your actions are considered criminal when you use excessive force toward the child. When proving your guilt under PC 273(d), the prosecution must prove that your actions were not geared towards disciplining the child.

Spanking is not a form of child abuse when you do it to discipline your child and use minimal force. However, this is still controversial, and today’s standards on disciplining a child could change over time. If you face criminal charges for spanking your child, the jury determines whether the spanking was excessive.

Legal Penalties for a Child Abuse Conviction in California

Violation of California PC 273(d) is a wobbler. The prosecution can charge you with a felony or a misdemeanor under this statute. Some of the factors that affect the nature of your child abuse charges are:

  • Your criminal history. Crimes against children are prosecuted aggressively in California. When determining the nature of your charges, the prosecution will examine your criminal history. Individuals with a prior conviction for child abuse, neglect, or domestic violence are likely to face a felony.
  • The circumstances of your crime. The amount of force you used on the child and the injuries they suffered are key to your prosecution. You will face a felony conviction under PC 273(d) if your actions were cruel and the child suffered great bodily injury.

As a misdemeanor, child abuse is punishable by:

  • A jail sentence not exceeding one year
  • Misdemeanor probation
  • Fines of up to $6,000

If you face a felony conviction, you will face:

  • A maximum of six years in jail
  • Fines not exceeding $6,000
  • Formal probation

Effects of Prior Child Abuse Acts on your Conviction

Prior acts of inflicting injuries on a child are admissible during a child abuse case. If you face charges under PC 273(d), you will be at a disadvantage since the prosecutor has the right to present evidence about your domestic violence and child abuse convictions to the case. This will affect the nature of your charges and the severity of your penalties.

Before the prosecution can present the evidence on prior allegations, the court holds a hearing to decide whether the value of the evidence outweighs the chances of prejudice in your case. At this hearing, the judge considers factors like:

  • Whether or not the evidence will cause prejudice in the jury
  • The amount of time that has elapsed between the convictions and current charges
  • The presence and strength of evidence to support prior allegations in cases where you weren’t convicted

In most cases, the judge will only allow the introduction of evidence on prior convictions if the alleged acts occurred not more than ten years ago.

For prior evidence on domestic violence, the court allows the prosecution to present this evidence if the allegations involved:

  • A current spouse
  • Alive-in boyfriend or girlfriend
  • The parent of your child
  • Someone with whom you have a serious relationship

With evidence of prior child abuse and domestic violence allegations, the court may increase your jail sentence by up to four years for a child abuse conviction. 

In addition to these penalties, a felony child abuse conviction is a strike under California’s Three Strikes law. Often, this will occur when a child suffers serious bodily injury from the abuse. You will face double the sentence for a subsequent felony conviction when you have one strike on your record. Once you accumulate three strikes, a felony conviction means serving a mandatory sentence of twenty-five years to life in prison.

Probation for Child Abuse in California

If you face a conviction for child abuse in California, the court could sentence you to probation instead of jail time. The judge orders probation for felony and misdemeanor convictions under PC 273(d). Not all defendants are eligible for probation after a conviction under this statute. Your attorney must negotiate with the prosecution for this sentence.

Although probation is a good way to escape time in jail or prison, the sentence is accompanied by strict conditions that you must follow throughout the probation period. Some common probation conditions after a conviction for a PC 273(d) violation include:

  • Up to three years in probation
  • Regular reports to your probation officer. When the court sentences you to probation following a child abuse conviction, you must report your progress to the probation officer. Additionally, the probation officer uses these meetings to assess your conduct and determine any instances of a violation.
  • Protective orders. As a condition of probation for child abuse, the court will issue a protective order to ensure that you do not make contact with the victim. If you live in the same house as the victim, the judge may order you to move out.
  • Random drug testing. The court would order random alcohol and drug testing if you committed the crime of child abuse while under the influence of drugs.
  • A mandatory child abuser’s treatment program which lasts at least one year 

If you comply with all the probation terms and avoid committing additional crimes, the court could grant you an early termination of probation. Often, this requires that you demonstrate two-year compliance. Early termination of probation allows you to file for expungement, which is only possible after completing your probation term.

However, failure to comply with probation terms following a child abuse conviction, you could face an arrest and charges for probation violation. If the probation officer or law enforcement officer finds you in a probation violation, they could cite you to appear at a probation hearing. At this hearing, the court determines the accuracy of these allegations. A probation violation could result in:

  • Revocation of the probation sentence to reinstate the original jail sentence
  • Reinstatement of probation with strict conditions

Long Term Consequences of a PC 273(d) Conviction

The consequences of a child abuse allegation or conviction will continue to impact your life long after you have served your jail sentence and paid your fines. Criminal convictions are a public record in California. Therefore, any person who does a background check on you could find a child abuse conviction. Some of the long-term consequences of a child abuse conviction include:

  • Loss of child custody. During child custody battles, the family court will dig into all aspects of your criminal convictions. When awarding child custody, the court ensures that they place a child in a safe place. If you have a prior conviction for child abuse or other domestic violence-related crimes, your chances of losing custody to the other parent are high.
  • Employment. Most employers are reluctant to offer jobs to individuals with a criminal past. Child abuse is a serious offense, and such a conviction could be a basis to deny you an employment opportunity.
  • Loss of the right to testify in court. You lose your credibility before the law if you face a felony child abuse conviction. Therefore, you cannot act as a witness in a criminal case until you seal or expunge the record.
  • Personal relationships. Child abuse allegations are severe even when you don’t face a conviction. Often, your relationship with your child could be affected significantly.

Legal Defense Against Child Abuse Charges in California

The consequences of a child abuse conviction are often very severe. The shame, embarrassment, and humiliation accompanying these charges are overwhelming even after serving a jail sentence. Your personal and professional relationships could be ruined due to false allegations or mistake-of-fact. Additionally, you can lose custody of your children.

When you face an arrest and charges under this statute, you first need to contact a criminal defense attorney. There is a wide variety of arguments with which your attorney can help you build a solid defense to fight the charges, including:

False Accusations

It is not uncommon for child abuse charges to be based on false allegations. The repercussions of a conviction could ruin your life. For this person, a person’s need to accuse you falsely may be fueled by anger, jealousy, or a desire for revenge. Additionally, it is common for individuals in the middle of bitter custody battles to come up with all sorts of allegations to help them gain the upper hand in the custody case. If you have fallen victim to false accusations for any of these reasons, your attorney will help you uncover the truth and have a chance at case dismissal.

The Child's Injuries Are Unrelated to Abuse

Children engage in aggressive behavior that could cause them to suffer a significant injury. From contact sports to fights with their peers. Individuals tasked to report child abuse could mistake these injuries for abuse from you and report it to the authorities. Professionals responsible for reporting abuse include teachers, nurses, social workers, and the clergy. With the help of your attorney, you can obtain medical reports and testimony to prove that the injury resulted from something else.

Parents’ Right to Discipline 

In California, parents are free to discipline their children as they see fit as long as the amount of force is reasonable and does not cause injury. How other people interpret your attempts to discipline the child is a basis of many child abuse cases. You can argue that you exercised your right to discipline the child and did not mean to cause them harm. The court will not accept this defense if your child’s injuries are more serious than basic bruising.

The Child’s Injury was Accidental

One of the elements that a prosecutor needs to prove before you face a child abuse conviction is that your actions were willful. California child abuse laws do not punish you for accidents that happen to your child. However, you can still face a conviction under this statute if you acted aggressively towards the child or your reckless behavior caused their injuries.

Offenses Related to California PC 273(d)

When you face child abuse charges, some offenses could accompany this charge or replace it depending on the circumstances. Some of the offenses related to child abuse under California law include:

Child Neglect

Criminal charges for child abuse arise when you willfully or without lawful excuse fail to provide necessities for your child. The elements of child neglect under California law include:

  1. You are a parent of a minor. Under this statute, a minor is any person under eighteen years. It is essential to understand that the law recognizes unborn children and expects the parents to provide for the child’s needs. On the other hand, a parent could be legal, adopted, biological or other individuals who hold themselves as parents. If you no longer have parental rights to a child, you cannot face a conviction for child neglect.
  2. You failed to provide for the child’s needs. A child’s necessities under PC 270 include clothing, food, shelter, and medical care.
  3. You acted willfully and with no lawful excuse. An action is considered willful when you do it on purpose. The law requires all parents to do everything reasonable to provide for their children. You have a lawful excuse not to provide for your children if you do not have income or assets and cannot earn money.

Child neglect is a misdemeanor. A conviction under this statute is punishable by:

  • One year in county jail
  • Up to $2,000 in fines

There are cases where the court may charge you with felony child neglect. This often occurs when you neglect the child after the court has performed a paternity test and determined that you are the father. Felony child neglect could accompany the following punishment:

  • A jail sentence of up to one year
  • A maximum of one year in state prison
  • Fines not exceeding $2,000

Child Endangerment

You commit a crime of child endangerment when you expose a minor to a dangerous condition or allow another person to harm them without taking reasonable protection measures. Child endangerment is addressed under California PC 273(d), and a conviction attracts severe consequences. The elements of child endangerment include:

     1. You willfully inflicted or allowed a child to suffer unjustifiable mental suffering or physical pain

     2. You acted with criminal negligence. Under this statute, criminal negligence is conduct that involves more than ordinary carelessness. Anything that predisposes a child to the risk of serious injury will suffice as criminal negligence. The court determines criminal negligence by comparing your conduct with that of a reasonable person in a similar situation.

     3. You were not exercising the right to discipline your child. When proving your guilt for child endangerment, the prosecution must prove that your actions were not meant to discipline a child.

Child endangerment is a California wobbler. When charged as a felony, the crime is punishable by:

  • A three to six years prison sentence
  • Up to $10,000 in fines
  • Felony probation
  • A strike under California’s Three Strikes law 

On the other hand, a conviction for a misdemeanor child endangerment will attract these penalties:

  • Issuance of a protective order
  • Informal probation
  • A minimum jail sentence of one year
  • Fines not exceeding $1,000

Domestic Battery

California PC 243(e)(1) defines domestic battery as an unlawful and intentional contact that is harmful or offensive. Harmful or offensive conduct is considered domestic battery when the victim is an intimate partner. The following elements define domestic battery:

  1. You willfully touched another person offensively. Any form of unwelcome physical contact can suffice as a battery in California. The prosecutor does not need to prove that your actions caused harm or injuries to the alleged victim. You can face a domestic battery conviction even when you touch someone using a foreign object.
  2. The alleged victim was an intimate partner. Under this statute, an intimate partner could be a spouse, a live-in partner, or the other parent of your child or fiancée.
  3. You did not act in self-defense. Offensive touching done in self-defense will not attract a conviction for domestic battery. Before you face a conviction, the prosecutor must show that you were not trying to defend yourself when you committed the crime.

A conviction for violating California PC 243(e)(1) is a misdemeanor. A conviction, in this case, is punishable by:

  • Custody in county jail for a maximum of one year
  • Fines that do not exceed $2,000
  • Misdemeanor probation

When you escape a jail sentence and are sentenced to probation after a domestic battery conviction in California, the court requires you to complete a batterer’s intervention program.

Find a Skilled Child Abuse Defense Attorney Near Me

It is a criminal offense to inflict physical harm on a child. Since each case is different, what is considered physical harm is always up for debate. Corporal punishment is legal in California. However, when you use excessive force on a child, causing them to suffer a traumatic condition or an injury, you could face an arrest and charges under California PC 273(d). Child abuse charges are often very serious, and a conviction will attract severe legal penalties, including jail time and fines.

Even when you don’t face a child abuse conviction, the social stigma associated with these allegations could ruin your professional reputation and family relationships. It is not uncommon for simple family situations to be misunderstood by others, and law enforcement involvement worsens the situation. Fortunately, not all child arrests result in a conviction. With guidance from a skilled lawyer, you can fight the charges and avoid the consequences of a conviction.

At California Criminal Lawyer Group, we will protect your legal rights and help you build a solid defense against your charges. We serve clients seeking legal guidance to navigate child abuse charges in Anaheim, CA. Contact us today at 714-766-0965.