Cases of child abuse are some of the most common crimes we deal with at the Orange County Criminal Lawyer. Considering the nature of this offense, it is possible to be falsely accused of child abuse or to be mistakenly identified as an abuser. Being convicted as a child abuser is something that can affect your life in so many ways.

That is why it is advisable to seek legal help as soon as you are arrested and charged with child abuse. If you are in Orange County, we can help make the legal process smoother for you, defend you of the charges you are facing and even convince the judge to either drop the charges or reduce them to a more lenient charge.

The Legal Definition of Child Abuse and What it Entails

Generally, the offense of child abuse is committed when a person who is expected to care for a child emotionally, sexually, or physically abuses, abandons, or neglects the child. This person could either be a parent, a teacher, or a caregiver. The law recognizes that parents have the legal right to raise and discipline their children however they see fit, but the law against child abuse is there to protect children from experiencing severe harm in the course of being raised and disciplined.

In the United States, child abuse is prevalent; more than many people can imagine. Statistics show that over three million reports of child abuse are made in the country every year, which involves over six million children. That is why every state today has strict laws in place to ensure that the rights of children are protected and that every child is safe in the environment where they live and play.

Child abuse laws in the state of California are provided under Section 273d of the State's Penal Code.  The law makes it illegal for anyone to impose any cruel punishment or injury on a minor. Some of the actions that could be interpreted as child abuse include:

  • Hitting a teenager for coming home late
  • Slapping a minor hard to the point of leaving a mark on their face
  • Beating a child harder than required when disciplining them

The law mandates certain professions like social service providers, childcare workers, and teachers to report suspected cases of child neglect and abuse.

Note that child abuse can happen in the act of either commission or Omission that results in physical injury, emotional harm, potential injury or harm or any form of threat to a minor. According to the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there are two main categories of child abuse:

Child Abuse Through Acts of Commission

These include open actions or words that bring harm or can pose a risk of harm to a child, or even threaten to harm a child. Acts of a commission that are associated with child abuse are usually intentional and deliberate. However, the offender may not have intended to cause harm to the child. A parent may, for instance, plan to beat a child to punish him/her, which eventually causes a child to have a concussion, though the beating was not meant to cause any harm to the child. What matters is that the beating was intentional and not accidental, which qualifies it to be child abuse.

There are several types of maltreatments that fall under the category of acts of commission, which can trigger charges for child abuse:

  • Physical abuse
  • Psychological abuse
  • Sexual abuse

Physical abuse is the second most commonly reported form of child abuse in California. This kind of abuse occurs when physical pain or injury is inflicted upon a child with malicious or cruel intent. Physical abuse can happen when a child is beaten, punched, kicked, burnt, violently shook or bitten, resulting in physical injuries. 

Even if the offender did not intend to hurt the child physically, this would still be considered as child abuse as long as the child sustained injuries. Most reported cases of physical abuse stem from parents who physically punish their children. Children who have been physically abused will have scratches, bruises, broken bones, or welts on their skin.

Psychological abuse results from a repeated pattern of behavioral or verbal actions done intentionally to harm a child. The effects of psychological abuse are, for instance, a child feeling unloved, worthless, flawed, endangered, and unwanted. Parents or caregivers who terrorize children with words or actions can face charges of psychological child abuse. Parents who fight in the presence of their children can also cause the child to suffer psychologically.

Under psychological abuse, we have different forms of actions that can cause a child to suffer psychologically, including isolation, rejection, scorning a child, terrorism, exploitation, and corruption as well as exposure to domestic violence.

Sexual abuse on a child is also called molestation, and it occurs when an older adolescent or adult uses a minor for sexual stimulation or satisfaction. This could include having sexual intercourse with a child, child grooming, indecent exposure, child sexual exploitation, and also using a child in the production of pornographic materials. This type of child abuse can happen anywhere, including home and school. Early marriages are also categorized as forms of child sexual abuse.

Child Abuse Through acts of Omission

This form of child abuse occurs when a person that is responsible for taking care of a child fails to provide the physical and emotional needs of a child. It could also happen when parents or child caregivers fail to protect the child from harm or potential threat. Just like abuse through acts of commission, the intended purpose, in this case, may not be to harm the child. Here are some forms of maltreatment that can be considered as child abuse through acts of Omission:

  • Failing to make available the physical needs of a child
  • Neglect- physical, emotional, educational, and medical
  • Failing to supervise or provide adequate supervision on a child
  • Exposing the child to dangerous environments

Child neglect is a commonly reported form of child abuse in the state of California. This form of abuse occurs when a parent or caregiver entrusted with the physical and well-being of a child fails to meet the basic needs of that child. A neglected child is one whose physical needs of food, clothing, and shelter have not been provided or have been inadequately provided. Providing inadequate safety and healthcare needs is also included here.

Generally, there are things that a child needs to grow and develop well physically, emotionally, and socially. If these are not provided, then the life of that child may be significantly affected. Neglect, in most cases, is associated with bad parenting resulting from domestic violence, mental disorders, substance use and abuse, unplanned pregnancies, unemployment, and poverty.

Child neglect is mainly based on how the child and the general public view the parent’s or caregiver’s behavior and not in how the parent/caregiver believes they are behaving towards the minor. When a parent fails to provide adequately for a child when they have options, this will be a straight case of child abuse through neglect. However, in cases where the parent is unable to provide because there are no options, they may not be guilty of child abuse. There are some cases where lack of resources and poverty can cause a parent to be unable to provide the basic needs their children need

Elements of Physical Child Abuse

From the legal definition of California physical child abuse or corporal injury on a child as provided under Section 273d of the state’s laws, the offense occurs when a person willfully inflicts any of these on a child:

  • Inhuman or cruel bodily/corporal punishment
  • An injury which results or could trigger a traumatic condition

Corporal punishment, as used here, simply refers to physical and not emotional punishment.

The resulting traumatic condition is any physical or bodily injury or wound that could result from corporal punishment. Note that the condition could be major or minor, depending on the amount of physical force that was directly applied to the child.

The injury, in this case, will have to have been inflicted willfully, which means that the action was done purposefully. Whether the offender intended to break the law or harm the child will not matter as long as a result was a bodily injury.

There are specific actions that are considered illegal in California when inflicted on a minor. These include: hitting, slapping, punching, pushing, kicking, choking, shaking, burning, and throwing an item at a minor. In short, any action that could cause an injury to a child, whether major or minor, will be considered as abuse as long as it is inhuman or cruel and results in a traumatic condition.

Note that spanking in California is not categorized as an act of child abuse as long as it satisfies the following conditions:

  • That it was done to discipline a child,
  • that it was not done excessively under the conditions

If done moderately and for discipline, spanking is acceptable whether it is done by use of bare hands or by use of an object such as a paddle or belt.

In that case, the elements of the offense that the prosecutor must demonstrate for an offender to be found guilty of physical child abuse include the following:

  • That the offender willfully subjected a minor to inhuman or cruel physical punishment or injury
  • That the punishment or injury caused the child to suffer a traumatic physical condition
  • That the defendant did so when they were not rationally disciplining the child

Elements of Child Neglect

Child neglect laws are provided under Section 270 of the California Penal Code. A parent or caregiver will be accused of child neglect in the state when they willfully do the following:

  • Fails to provide the child’s basic needs
  • Doing so without a legal excuse

The kinds of necessities covered under this law include clothes, shelter, food, education, medical needs as well as remedial care. 

‘Willfully failing to provide' as used in this section of law means that the parent or caregiver failed to provide what the child needs on purpose. Note that a parent or caregiver can have a legal excuse for neglecting a child's needs. There are a few excuses that a California court can accept, for instance, when a parent is not earning enough money to be able to provide all the child's necessities. If the court establishes that it is not the parent's fault to neglect the child, then the parent will not be guilty of child abuse through neglect.

However, if the court establishes that the defendant did not diligently look for employment, or they unjustly chose to spend their earned money on other things other than providing for the child, they will be found guilty of child neglect.

Penalties for California Child Abuse

Inflicting corporal injury on a minor through physical abuse is a wobbler offense in California. This could mean that the prosecutor can convict you with either a felony or a misdemeanor. The kind of conviction you get will be determined by the following:

  • The facts surrounding your case
  • Your criminal history and whether or not you have a prior conviction of child abuse

For a misdemeanor child abuse conviction, the defendant may face the following penalties:

  • Imprisonment for not more than one year in jail
  • A fine of not more than $6000

For a felony conviction, here are possible punishments you could get:

  • Two, four, or up to six years of incarceration. You are likely to get an additional four years of imprisonment if you have a prior felony conviction of child abuse within ten years.
  • a maximum fine of $6000

Instead of sending a defendant to jail, the court may decide to give you probation. You can either get a felony or misdemeanor probation depending on the conviction you have received. The judge will impose several conditions for anyone that is allowed probation for child abuse. Some of these conditions include

  • At least three years of mandatory probation
  • A protective command which prevents further abuse or threats against the minor. The court may even prohibit the defendant from getting into contact with the victim of abuse
  • The defendant may be required to successfully complete treatment for child abuse, which could last for at least a year
  • The defendant may also be required to undergo a random drug testing especially if the offense was committed when he/she was under the effect of alcohol or drugs

Punishments for child neglect

Child neglect is generally convicted as a misdemeanor in the state of California and can be penalized by

  • A summary or misdemeanor probation
  • Imprisonment for a maximum of one year in jail
  • A fine of not more than $2,000

There are instances when a child neglect offense can be treated as a wobbler, and depending on the prosecutor, you might get a misdemeanor or even a felony. Such an instance is when there is a prior court ruling that the offender is the minor's parent. When this happens, and the defendant gets a felony conviction, these are the possible penalties they could get:

  • A maximum of one year in jail or one year plus a day in a state prison
  • A fine of not more than $2000

California Mandatory Reporting of Suspected Child Abuse

As mentioned earlier, the state of California mandates certain professions like teachers, social workers, and healthcare providers to report suspected cases of child abuse immediately. The law recognizes that sometimes, child abuse will go beyond broken bones and physical bruises.

Physical abuse will be pronounced and easy to identify, but emotional/psychological abuse is more harmful and should be reported immediately upon suspicion. That is why people who work around children are required to report in case they find any potential signs that a child is facing abuse.

Failing to report or providing a false report of child abuse is punishable by law in California. The offender will most likely get a misdemeanor conviction, which is punishable by a maximum of six months in jail and a fine of not more than $1000.

Possible Legal Defenses for Child Abuse

Other than spending time in prison or jail and paying hefty penalties, a child abuse conviction will change your life in so many aspects. A person who has been accused of child abuse will not be treated with respect back in the community. Both your social and professional life can be significantly ruined. That is why you need to fight child abuse charges. What you need is the help and support of a competent criminal lawyer, who will investigate your case and defend you in the trial to convince the judge to either drop the charges you are facing or reduce them to more lenient charges.

Fortunately, there are several possible legal defenses available for child abuse cases that your attorney can utilize. Some of these are the following.

False accusations

Not all reported cases of child abuse are real. Some people get falsely accused by people who want to get back at them, and if they are not lucky, they might end up paying for an offense they did not commit. A former spouse can, for instance, falsely accuse a parent or caregiver of child abuse out of revenge of jealously. Your attorney should be able to investigate your case in detail to convince the court that the allegations are baseless.  If he/she succeeds, your charges may be dropped altogether.

A mistake of facts

A parent or caregiver can be suspected of child abuse while in the real sense, they are doing the best they can to care and provide for the child. This mainly happens when another person sees signs of abuse and immediately reports without fact-finding. As mentioned above, failure to report is punishable by law, which is why any slight suspicion of abuse on a child is reported. Your attorney can counter these claims with detailed evidence on how much you have provided for the minor. If the reported parent is noncustodial, you may try to prove all the attempts you have made to provide care and support to the child to counter the allegations.

You are not the child’s parent

If you are not the child's parent, the law will not hold you responsible for providing and caring for the child. In that case, you will not be guilty of child abuse. This defense could work if the child was born when its mother was wedded to another person or if another parent legally adopted the child. The same applies to accused parents who are not biological parents of the victim or if the child was conceived through science without the defendant’s consent.

You did not do so willfully

The main element of the crime of child abuse is willfully subjecting a child to physical, emotional, or psychological abuse. If the offender did not do so willfully, then they may not be guilty of the offense. An offense is willfully committed if it is commissioned on purpose. If you did not purposefully injure a child, or fail to provide for the child, your child abuse charges could be reduced. If, for instance, a parent is accused of failing to provide medical care to a child, it may be because they did not know that the child required medical attention in the first place. Some parents are also unable to provide for their children through no mistake of their own.

Find an Orange County Criminal Lawyer Near Me

The law on child abuse is complex, making it hard for a person to understand when they are on the wrong and whether or not they can face serious charges. At Orange County Criminal Lawyer, we seek to help you understand the intricacies of this law better, as well as help with your defense if you are already facing child abuse charges. Our legal team is well-informed, and with our experience on the job, we can significantly help with the charges you are facing. Call us at 714-262-4833 and let our competent and supportive attorneys make a difference in your case.