California law seeks to protect children and other vulnerable groups of people. For this reason, anyone who commits a crime against a child under 18 is subject to harsh prosecution and severe penalties upon conviction.

You commit the crime of child endangerment when you expose a child to a dangerous condition or let them suffer without taking necessary measures. Child endangerment is a serious offense that carries severe legal penalties.

Sometimes, allegations of child endangerment are enough to ruin your personal and professional life, even when the charges do not result in a conviction. In addition to jail time and fines, you could lose custody of the child and possibly your job. Therefore, everything is at stake when you face these charges, and you must begin to fight the allegations as soon as you face arrest.

One of the significant moves you can make when fighting your child endangerment charge is seeking the counsel of a criminal defense attorney. At the California Criminal Lawyer group, we will guide you through the process of building a solid defense to fight the charges and ensure the best possible outcome. We serve clients seeking top-notch legal guidance in Anaheim, CA.

An Overview of Child Endangerment in California

California law is strict when protecting minors from harm caused by individuals responsible for their care and other adults. Children are among the most vulnerable groups in society. Although endangering a child does not constitute abuse, it is a severe crime. The elements that constitute child endangerment include:

You Engaged in any of the Following Acts

  • You willfully inflicted physical pain or unjustifiable harm on a child
  • You willfully permitted or caused a child to suffer physical pain or mental suffering
  • While having custody of the child, you permitted them to be placed in a dangerous situation

Under California PC 273(a), a child is any individual under 18. Your actions against the child are considered willful if you act purposively. It is essential to understand that you can face child endangerment charges even when you are not their parent or guardian. In addition to providing your willful acts, the prosecution must prove that you placed the child in danger of unjustifiable harm. California law denies unjustifiable harm as suffering or pain that is excessive and unnecessary under the circumstances.

You Acted with Criminal Negligence

The prosecution must prove that your actions were criminally negligent before you face a conviction for violating PC 273(a) laws. Criminal negligence involves actions that are more than ordinary carelessness. You are criminally negligent when:

  • You act in a way that departs from what an ordinary and reasonable person would act under similar circumstances. The jury decides the test of how a reasonable person would have acted during your trial.
  • Your actions amount to a disregard for human life.
  • A reasonable person would know that acting as you did could significantly harm the child.

You Were not Disciplining the Child

Parents can exercise the right to discipline a child and impose corporal punishment. When proving your guilt under PC 273(a), the prosecution must prove that you were not disciplining the child or that you used more force than necessary to discipline the minor. For example, if you want to spank your child, but instead of using your hand, you use a large stick that causes them to hit their head, you can face criminal charges for child endangerment.

Criminal Penalties for a Penal Code 273(a) Conviction

Violation of PC 273(a) is a wobbler. The decision to charge a defendant with a felony or a misdemeanor lies with the prosecution. Some of the factors that are likely to determine the nature of your charges include:

  • Your criminal history. California laws are strict on repeat offenders. With prior domestic violence or violent felony convictions, the prosecution will lean more towards charging you with a felony.
  • The severity of the child’s injury. You could face child endangerment charges even if the minor did not suffer a physical injury. However, if the child dies or is severely injured, you will likely face felony charges.
  • Age of the child. The endangerment of a very young child will attract felony charges.

As a misdemeanor, endangerment of a child attracts the following legal implications:

  • A fine that doesn’t exceed $1,000.
  • A maximum of four years on misdemeanor probation.
  • Mandatory completion of a child abuse treatment program.
  • A jail sentence of up to twelve months.

A felony conviction under PC 273a attracts the following penalties:

  • A prison sentence that ranges from two, to four, ot six
  • A maximum of $10,000 in fines.
  • Felony Probation.

Probation for Child Endangerment in California

In California, the court offers probation to defendants as an alternative to jail or prison time. After a misdemeanor conviction, you can avoid jail time and serve your entire sentence on probation. However, with a felony conviction, you can serve part of your sentence in jail and the rest on probation. It is vital to understand that not all criminal defendants facing child endangerment charges are eligible for probation. Your attorney must negotiate with the prosecution if you feel probation best suits your needs.

Probation for child endangerment lasts between three and five years. Due to the severe nature of child endangerment charges, the court attaches specific conditions to the probation sentence. A violation of any of these conditions will attract a probation hearing, which can end with you behind bars. Common probation conditions for this offense include:

  • Successful completion of a court-approved child abuser’s program.
  • Drug and alcohol abuse counseling.
  • Random drug testing.
  • Payment of all court fines.
  • Protective order. As part of your probation, the court will issue a restraining order requiring you to avoid all contact with the child. Sometimes, the court orders you to move out of your residence.

Completing probation without a violation is critical if you want to expunge the child endangerment conviction. When you demonstrate good behavior while on probation, the court can grant you an early termination. Early probation termination allows you to start the expungement process sooner.

Great Bodily Injury Enhancement

If a child suffered a significant injury due to your actions, the court could impose additional penalties under the significant bodily injury enhancement. The enhancements apply as follows:

  • Up to six years if you inflicted injury on a young child.
  • Up to four years if the child dies because of your negligent acts, but you did not inflict the injury or force.

Manslaughter and Murder Charges

In extreme cases where a child dies from acts of endangerment, the prosecution could choose to charge you with more serious offenses like:

  • Second-degree murder under PC 18.
  • Voluntary manslaughter under PC 192(a).
  • Involuntary manslaughter under PC 192(b).

A conviction for these offenses will result in a significant prison sentence and fines. If the prosecution seeks to file murder or manslaughter charges after an act of child endangerment, you must seek the guidance of a knowledgeable attorney.

California Three Strikes Law and Child Endangerment

When you cause a child to suffer serious injury, you risk facing felony charges. A felony child endangerment conviction is a strike under California Three strikes law. If you have a prior felony conviction, you will be considered a striker and receive double the sentence for a felony violation of PC 273(a). For defendants with two strikes on their record, this conviction makes them third strikers. With three strikes on your record, a child endangerment conviction will attract a prison sentence of twenty-five years to life.

Legal Defenses Against Child Endangerment Charges

Since each case is different and the circumstances that lead to child endangerment vary, there is no specific defense for these charges. However, with expert legal guidance, you can build your defense using these arguments:

Right to Discipline Your Child

In California, parents have the right to choose their parenting style and how to discipline their children. As long as you use a force that does not cause injury or predispose a child to injury, you cannot face a conviction for child neglect for punishing your child. It is essential to understand that this defense will only apply if you do not have a domestic violence record and no injuries detected on the minor.

False Allegations

Many domestic violence offenses stem from false accusations. There is a wide variety of reasons why a person could feel motivated to bring false child endangerment charges against you. Everyone knows that the consequences of a child endangerment conviction are severe. Therefore, a person fueled by anger, jealousy, or a thirst for revenge could accuse you of the offense and ruin your life.

Another common reason for false child endangerment battles is attempting to gain the upper hand in divorce and child custody battles. The family court is very cautious when awarding child custody. Often, the safety and well-being of the child are the most crucial factors in these decisions. Your ex-spouse or parent of your child can falsely accuse you of this crime to limit your chances of receiving custody and visitation rights.

In child endangerment cases, the court may want to hear testimony from the alleged victim. Unfortunately, children are easy to convince and persuade. A person trusted with the child could convince them to lie or exaggerate the situation. If you are a victim of false accusations, your attorney will review all the evidence presented against you, including witness testimony, to uncover the root of the false accusations. The court could drop your charges if you can effectively assert this defense.

Another Person Endangered the Minor

Most people in the community will contact police officers when they find a child in a dangerous situation. With the pressure from the public and the desire to serve justice, police and prosecutors want to hold someone accountable. This will cause the officers to jump to conclusions without a proper investigation. Such a move by law enforcement could attract charges against the wrong person. If you can prove that another person endangered the alleged victim, you can have your charges reduced or dismissed.

No Criminal Negligence

The prosecution must prove that you acted with criminal negligence before facing a conviction for child endangerment. Regardless of the mistakes in judgment and consequences of your actions, ordinary carelessness does not satisfy the definition of child endangerment. The prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that you acted with high levels of gross negligence, and as a result, the child’s safety was jeopardized.

Your attorney could argue that no one is a perfect parent, and you do not always exercise ideal judgment. You cannot face a child endangerment charge for mere carelessness.

Lack of Intent

One critical element of child endangerment is that you acted willfully and harbored a general intent. However, doing something on purpose doesn’t mean that you intend to cause harm to the child. Your attorney can argue that you did not act with criminal intent and that your attempt to discipline the child got out of hand.

Mistake of Fact

Sometimes, PC 273(a) arises because another person misinterpreted an event. The problem of mistakes of fact becomes worse due to mandatory reporting laws. Under California law, professionals such as teachers, nurses, school staff, and clergy are responsible for reporting child abuse or endangerment. Failure to perform this duty could land these mandated reports in jail. Therefore, any incident that screams child endangerment is reported to the authorities and results in criminal charges or a conviction. You can argue that it was a mistake of fact if you have no history of abuse or other violent convictions.

Offenses Related to Child Endangerment

Child endangerment is one of the crimes that fall under domestic violence. Due to the pattern and behavior that led up to PC 273(a) charges, the prosecution could charge you with an alternative or additional charges under the following statutes:

California PC 270

Under California PC 270, it is a crime for a parent to willfully and without a valid excuse to fail to provide necessities for their children. When proving your guilt under this statute, the prosecution must prove these elements:

  • You are the parent of a minor. California law protects both living and unborn children. A parent under this statute could be legal, biological, adoptive, or even foster parents.
  • You failed to provide for the child’s necessities. Child endangerment laws define necessities as food, clothing, shelter, and medical care.
  • Your failure to provide was willful and without an excuse. A willful act is one that you do deliberately. The only lawful excuse for failing to provide for your children is a lack of the financial capacity and assets to perform that duty.

You can land in jail for failing to provide basic needs for your child. Child neglect is a misdemeanor whose conviction will result in a one-year jail sentence and a fine that does not exceed $2,000.

California PC 273(d)

Child abuse involves the infliction of inhuman punishment that causes a traumatic condition in the child. If you face charges for child endangerment and the court finds evidence of traumatic injury to the child, you could face criminal charges for both child abuse and child endangerment. Child abuse laws criminalize emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of children. The prosecution must prove these elements when proving your guilt for child abuse:

  • You intentionally imposed cruel punishment on a minor. You only face a conviction for child abuse when your actions against the child are deliberate.
  • Your actions resulted in a traumatic injury to the child. A traumatic condition, in this case, encompasses minor or severe winds that result from the excessive application of force against a child.
  • Your actions were not geared towards disciplining the child. Parents and guardians have the right to discipline their children however they see fit. However, you could face serious legal trouble if the punishment is too extensive.

Some of the most common examples of abusive behavior against children include:

  • Burning
  • Hitting
  • Chocking
  • Punching
  • Slapping
  • Throwing a harmful object at the minor

Child abuse is a wobbler. Depending on the child's injury level and your criminal history, you can face felony or misdemeanor charges. In cases of minor injury, the prosecution will charge you with a misdemeanor whose conviction is punishable by up to a year in county jail and $6,000 in fines.

However, where there is evidence of extreme injury, or you have a prior child abuse conviction, you will face a felony. A conviction for felony child abuse is punishable by up to six years in jail and a $6,000 fine.

Like child endangerment, defendants facing child abuse charges can escape part of their jail sentence through misdemeanor or felony probation. Probation conditions for child endangerment and child abuse are almost similar.

California PC 368

Under California PC 368, it is a crime to inflict unjustifiable pain on individuals aged sixty-five years and above.  The inability of older adults to take care of themselves or put up a defense against oncoming threats makes them protected people in California. You can face arrest and criminal charges under this statute for inflicting physical and emotional abuse or financial exploitation on this group of individuals.

If you are tasked with caring for an elderly person and fail to provide appropriate care, you could face serious criminal charges. The elements of crime in elder abuse charges include:

  • You willfully permit a person over sixty-five years to suffer, or you inflict physical and mental pain on them
  • You knew that the person was elderly. The court will only find you guilty of elder abuse if you knew your victim was elderly.

Elder abuse is a severe offense, and its prosecution is harsh in California. The offense is a wobbler, meaning you can suffer a felony or a misdemeanor conviction. Felony elder abuse attracts up to seven years in jail, especially when there is severe injury or death. Additionally, you will need to pay up to $10,000 in fines.

If you face a misdemeanor conviction, you will spend up to one year in jail and pay a fine of up to $6,000.

California PC 273.5

You violate PC 273.5 laws when you deliberately inflict injury on an intimate partner causing a traumatic condition. A domestic altercation involving extreme force and violence puts the safety of children in the household at risk. Therefore, when you face charges for inflicting corporal injury or a cohabitant, the prosecution could file additional child endangerment charges.

The court will find you guilty under this statute for engaging in the following conduct:

  • You deliberately caused physical harm to another person
  • The injury resulted in a traumatic condition
  • The victim is a current or former intimate partner or parent of your child

Corporal injury to a spouse is a wobbler. The decision to charge you with a felony or a misdemeanor lies in the circumstances of your case. A conviction under PC 273 will cause you to spend up to four years in jail for a felony and one year for a misdemeanor. Having prior convictions for domestic violence will make the penalties harsher. Seeking legal guidance is vital if you face charges for inflicting corporal injury on a cohabitant.

Find a Competent Orange County Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me

An arrest and a charge for child endangerment arise when a person places a minor child in a position to suffer significant physical, mental, emotional, or sexual harm. The police and prosecution are under constant pressure to arrest and harshly prosecute defendants who commit crimes against minors. Child endangerment is one of the criminal allegations with the potential to ruin every aspect of your life. The consequences of a conviction under CPC 273(a) will continue to impact your life long after sentencing, such as a jail term and fines.

The issues surrounding domestic violence crimes are full of controversy. Therefore, facing child endangerment allegations does not mean the court will find you guilty. You could be a victim of false claims arising from domestic disputes or a mistake of fact. At the California Criminal Lawyer Group, we understand what is at stake for you and your family. Our skilled attorneys will help you build a defense to fight these charges and avoid a conviction.

If you or a loved one faces criminal charges for child endangerment in Anaheim, CA, you will need our legal expertise by your side. Contact us today at 714-766-0965 and allow us to guide you through these challenging times.