Regrettably, child endangerment allegations are common, particularly in custody battles. Also, what a doctor, teacher, witness, or police officer may perceive or consider unreasonable child treatment might not be the situation for you and your child. Nonetheless, child endangerment in Orange County is a severe offense that carries severe consequences. Therefore, it is recommended to speak to our legal team at Orange County Criminal Lawyer. We will use our experience and knowledge to protect your future, rights, and reputation from a PC 273a conviction.
What Constitutes Child Endangerment in California?
For obvious reasons, the justice system doesn't take offenses committed against children lightly, and the consequences are more stringent than similar crimes involving adults. Child endangerment laws are more confusing because you don't need to cause the minor physical harm to be charged with the offense.
Child endangerment is intentionally putting a child below eighteen years of age at risk. The risk can be either psychological or physical.
To be convicted of child endangerment under California Penal Code Section 273a, a prosecution team should present evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that:
You engaged in either:
- Willfully inflicted unjustifiable mental suffering and physical pain on the child
- Allowed or caused the minor to sustain unjustifiable mental suffering and physical pain willfully
- While taking care or having a child's custody, you allowed or caused the baby to undergo unjustifiable mental suffering and physical pain willfully
- While taking care or having custody of a person below 18 years, allowed or caused the victim to be put in a state where their health and person was at risk
- You were criminally negligent at what time you permitted or made the baby be at risk, injured, or suffer
- If you weren't the child's parent, you weren't disciplining your child
Additional Element of the Offense
If charged with a wobbler, the prosecutor should also establish that you behave under circumstances that could probably cause death or great bodily harm. A wobbler is an offense that can be charged either as a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the prosecutor's discretion.
Note, it isn't a must that your conduct results in death or injury. It's only essential that it's a possibility.
Examples of PC 273a
Numerous behaviors can be considered a violation of California Penal Code Section 273a. They include:
- Beating your baby severely
- Failing to feed a child properly
- Abandoning a minor in a locked hot place
- Harming a minor psychologically
- Keeping illegal drugs within reach of your child
Definition of The Elements of the Offense
To comprehend the above meaning of PC 273a, it is essential to first look at the facts of the crime.
An act is willfully executed if it's done deliberately or on purpose.
That does not imply that the accused planned to cause harm or break any law. Rather, it means they engaged in behavior that would have led to harm.
It takes in more than a mistake in judgment, carelessness, or inattention. An individual is considered to have acted with criminal negligence if:
- They behave in a thoughtless manner which is gross evacuation from how a cautious individual could behave in similar circumstances
- Their behavior led to insignificance to the effects of their conduct or disregard for life
- A realistic individual could have been conscious that behaving that way could probably or naturally lead to injury to other persons
In layman's language, an act is criminal negligence if it's incredibly reckless, careless, and aggravated that it is against prudence. It is determined by whether a reasonable individual in the same situation would behave the same way.
Great Bodily Harm
This legal phrase refers to a significant injury. That means trivial, minor, and moderate injuries are not great bodily injuries.
The question of whether great bodily injury exists is decided by the judge, depending on the case's facts. Consequently, an overzealous prosecution team will tend to charge great bodily injury in every opportunity it gets.
Remember, the concern isn't whether the alleged victim suffered injuries. Rather it's whether the alleged victim was put in conditions that they would most likely sustain injuries.
If the minor sustains great bodily injury, the prosecutor will most likely prosecute you with a California felony charge.
Unjustifiable Physical Pain or Mental Suffering
This term refers to suffering or pain that can be either:
- Not rationally vital, or
- Extreme under the circumstances
Penalties, Consequences, and Sentencing Attracted by Violating PC 273a
The punishment for breaking child endangerment laws in Orange County varies significantly. The penalties depend on whether your conduct initiated the danger of severe bodily harm or death.
In the event, your behavior doesn't create a danger of demise or great bodily harm, the offense is filed as a misdemeanor. The misdemeanor attracts the following potential penalties:
- A six-month jail sentence
- A maximum of $1,000 in fine
Additionally, you can receive misdemeanor probation as a sentence. Also referred to as summary probation, misdemeanor probation for a Penal Code Section 273a PC conviction is punishable by at least four years. The probation also carries:
- A protective order designed to safeguard the child from more violent acts - The restraining order might take in a stay away provision, which makes it illegal for you to reach out to the victim. The order could extend to the minor's residence regardless of whether it's also your residence
- Enrolment in a child abuser treatment and counseling program
If you were drunk, when you committed the crime, you will face the following additional conditions:
- Random drug testing
- Abstain from consuming alcohol or drugs during the probation period
Can the Summary Probation Conditions be Expunged, Terminated, or Waived?
The judge can waive any summary probation condition if he/she finds that the condition won't be in the best interest of justice. You can also be granted early probation termination if you follow all probation terms.
Additionally, you can also have your probation expunged from the criminal record. It is possible once you complete your probation. The judge can also fail to grant an expungement petition if:
- You failed to comply with all probation conditions
- You engaged in a probation violation
PC 273a is charged as a California wobbler if the child was in danger of suffering great bodily injury or death. The prosecutor can elect to charge the wobbler either as a felony or a misdemeanor depending mainly on:
- The accused's criminal history, and
- The allegations' circumstances
A felony conviction attracts:
- A two, four, or six-year sentence in state prison
- $10,000 in fine
The judge could also choose to sentence you to a 4-year felony/formal probation. The felony probation terms are similar to summary probation conditions.
You can also expunge the felony probation, as highlighted above.
Three Strikes Law
According to Three Strikes law, a felony conviction is a strike if the minor sustained great bodily harm. If you have a strike on your criminal record and are later charged with a California felony, you will be well-thought-out to be a second striker. The sentence for the subsequent crime will be twice what it would otherwise be.
And if you become a third striker, you risk facing a mandatory twenty-five-year to a life sentence in state prison.
Murder or Manslaughter Consequences
If a child succumbs to child endangerment, the prosecution team can choose to file more severe charges like:
- Second-degree murder (PC 18)
- Voluntary manslaughter (PC 192a)
- Involuntary manslaughter (PC 192b)
Great Bodily Harm Enhancement
You can also face an enhancement to your sentence besides the California felony penalties discussed above. The sentencing enhancement applies if the alleged victim is seriously injured due to criminal negligence.
This increment will lead to the following consecutive sentence in the state prison:
- If you indeed and personally caused great bodily harm on the child, you will face a sentence enhancement of 3 (three) to 6 (six) years depending mainly on the child's nature of injury and age
- If the minor passed away because of your criminal negligence, you could spend four more years in California state prison
How to Beat Child Endangerment Charges
If arrested for violating child endangerment law in California, you should contact a skilled criminal defense attorney immediately. The attorney knows how domestic violence offenses are investigated, as well as put on trial.
Additionally, the attorney can use one of the legal defenses below depending on your case:
You Didn't Act Willfully, or Your Conduct Didn't Add Up to Criminal Negligence
To be sentenced to child endangerment, the prosecution should present evidence beyond any reasonable doubt that you acted with criminal negligence or willfully.
There are several ways your criminal defense counsel may use to prove your innocence. For instance, they can claim the injuries were due to ordinary negligence or an accident. For instance, Redman is preparing dinner at the same time watching his son, Joseph, who is four years old when his phone rings. Redman puts a knife down and leaves to pick the call. When he is away, Joseph takes the knife and cuts two of his fingers.
In this case, even though Redman was negligent, he wasn't criminally negligent. Criminal negligence in California goes beyond inattentiveness. Moreover, a reasonable individual may assume the child will not pick the knife in the duration it took picking the call.
You were Reasonably Discipling Your Child
As a parent, you are entitled to punish your child through corporal punishment. Corporal punishment is physical punishment, which is done on a body.
The amount of corporal punishment permits the expansive consideration put into account the minor's age, size, and other circumstances that could affect the reasonableness of the punishment. For example, you can beat your son, who has disobeyed you with a belt without being held accountable under the statute in question.
Other forms of corporal punishment could be restricting your baby to his/her room or spanking.
There are numerous reasons why a person would be falsely accused of breaking PC 273a. For instance, you and your ex-wife are in a custody battle in a family law court, and your ex fabricates a situation that results in the child protective services involvement. Consequently, your ex-partner gets the upper hand in persuading the court that you are a threat to your children's safety.
In this case, your defense attorney should conduct an extensive investigation. It could be collecting all correspondence between you and your ex-spouse like text messages, letters, emails, Facebook messages, and court documents.
Sometimes your baby may make false accusations after being manipulated by the other parent. Or probably the minor is annoyed and is seeking vengeance. Typically, this takes place when the child's parent marries another person other than their other parent or during a marriage dissolution proceeding.
Sometimes, the baby's caretaker may make false allegations as a method to conceal abuse.
In all the above scenarios, the results are similar. The law enforcers won't like to be liable for assuming injuries to a person below 18 years of age. Therefore, they will put any accused person into custody.
When proving your innocence, the criminal defense lawyer will make sure no stone is left unturned as far as finding evidence is concerned. They may interview all persons who were present at the scene of the crime. The attorney could also interview persons in your everyday life to determine if you're a morally correct caretaker or parent.
Subject to the accusation, the legal expert can also get employment/school records or criminal records of every possibly answerable person. They can also look into the minor's socials like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat.
Mistake of Fact
You could also be accused of child endangerment due to a mistake of fact. It occurs when an individual misinterprets the situation.
Under mandatory reporting laws, specialists such as school administrators, clergy, and medical experts are obligated to report any suspected violation of Penal Code 273a to law enforcers. Otherwise, they will be convicted of a misdemeanor that carries a jail sentence. Therefore, these professionals are pressurized to report even the least Penal Code Section 273a suspicion.
Often, the prosecution team will hold an individual liable whenever a child's life or health is threatened, and they will make a rush decision concerning who is answerable.
Most domestic violence offenses have similar facts of the crimes as California PC 273a. Discussed below are crimes that are sometimes prosecuted in place of, alongside, or together with PC 273a:
According to Penal Code Section 273d, it is illegal to inflict physical abuse on a minor. You don't have to inflict great bodily harm on the minor to be charged with PC 273d. However, there should be some form of harm (notwithstanding how insignificant) to initiate the charge.
The violation of PC 273d is a wobbler. A misdemeanor carries a one-year jail term and fines of six thousand dollars. A felony, on the other hand, attracts:
- Two, four, or six years in prison
- Six thousand dollars ($6,000) in fine
Child neglect is also known as failure to provide care. Violating PC 270 carries less severe penalties compared to child endangerment. A person is arrested for Penal Code 270 PC when they fail to give necessities to their child.
In this context, the term "necessities" refers to food, clothing, medical attention, and shelter. However, you cannot be convicted of this offense if you can't afford these necessities.
Violation of PC 270 is a misdemeanor, and it attracts $2,000 in fines and one year in county jail.
It can also be a wobbler with consequent convictions. In an extreme case, the punishment could be spending a year and a day in prison.
Lewd Act with a Child
Penal Code Section 288 seeks to punish any inappropriate touching of a child. It's filed when you touch a minor for sexual intentions, and the minor is:
- Below fourteen years of age, or
- Aged fourteen or fifteen, when you are ten years older than the minor.
The consequences you face for breaking PC 288, depends on:
- The alleged victim's age
- The age difference between you and the alleged victim
- Whether you were the victim's caretaker
A conviction carries a fine of ten thousand dollars and a sentence in California state prison.
Furnishing Dangerous Fireworks to a Minor
Another offense charged together with PC 273a is Health & Safety Code 12702 PC. Under this statute, it is illegal to deliver, give, or sell hazardous fireworks like sparklers and rockets to a child below 18 years of age.
It is a misdemeanor that is punishable by:
- A year in county jail
- A fine that is between five hundred dollars and one thousand dollars
In California, it is illegal to drive your car while drunk.
Often PC 273a is charged together with drunk driving. It takes place when you're put into custody for drunk driving with a minor passenger. In this case, the prosecutor will prosecute the offense as a sentencing enhancement to DUI. If convicted of DUI and the DUI enhancement with a minor passenger applies, you will face standard drunk driving penalties plus the following additional and consecutive sentence:
- 48 hours in jail for a first-time DUI conviction
- Ten days in jail for a second drunk-driving conviction
- Thirty days in a county jail for a third DUI conviction
- A ninety-day jail sentence for a subsequent DUI conviction
Moreover, VC 27360 requires all motorists with small babies to have a child restraint system in place.
Charges Involving Death
In the event the minor dies, the prosecution team can elect to charge at least either of the below charges in lieu of or alongside Penal Code Section 273a PC:
Child Abuse Leading to Demise of a Minor under Eight Years (PC 273ab)
You could be charged with PC 273ab when:
- You had custody as well as care of a child under eight
- You assaulted the minor using methods that would likely lead to great bodily harm
- The minor was paralyzed, comatose or died due to the harm
PC 273ab is punishable by twenty-five years to life imprisonment.
Involuntary Manslaughter (PC 192b)
Should criminal negligence lead to death, it is considered involuntary manslaughter. The difference between murder and manslaughter is that the latter doesn't involve malice.
Involuntary manslaughter is the most common type of manslaughter charged in Penal Code 273a PC cases. It's charged when the demise of an alleged victim originates from:
- The accused engaging in a lawful but hazardous behavior with no due care
- Committing illegal conduct which is not a felony
You will be charged with murder under PC 187 if you kill a minor with malice.
You will face first-degree murder in case the killing was premeditated and intentional. Should the killing be premediated and willful but not deliberate, you will be charged with second-degree murder.
In California, a murder charge can stem from Penal Code 273a PC because either:
- There was implied malice, or
- Because of the felony-murder rule
Felony-murder rule assumes there was malice when a defendant kills another individual while violating a California felony, including child endangerment. On the contrary, implied malice occurs when a person acts recklessly that the defendant is aware the conduct will endanger somebody else's life. It goes beyond criminal negligence.
Typically, all circumstances are prosecuted as second-degree murder. It is punishable by a 15 year or life sentence.
Bail Amount for Child Endangerment
Bail amount varies depending on the county; every California county is allowed to set its bail amount for the offenses which are committed in its jurisdiction. That means every county has a bail schedule that gives a defendant a clue of what they are likely to be charged.
Additionally, certain factors are weighed when determining the amount. They include:
- The seriousness of the offense
- Criminal history
- Whether the defendant is a flight risk
If the bail amount is set high, it can be hard for a defendant to afford the bail. That is where a bail bond agent comes in. To secure your release, you will be required to pay the bondsman a 10% charge of your total bail amount.
Get Legal Representation Near Me
The state of California is one of the many states with stringent laws in place to make sure the absolute protection of children. For instance, putting your child's health or person in danger carries severe penalties. And a conviction will have not only devastating effects on your future and life but also your family. Consequently, you should do everything possible to protect yourself and your family from the consequences, and you can start with speaking with any of our attorneys at Orange County Criminal Lawyer. Contact us today at 714-262-4833 to schedule your initial case evaluation.