If you find yourself facing charges of child endangerment in California, you could be facing particularly severe consequences if convicted, depending on the severity of the particular allegations against you. At Los Angeles Criminal Attorneys, we understand the intricacies of the law on child endangerment and will tailor our defense strategy and tactics to the specifics of your case.
WHAT IS “CHILD ENDANGERMENT?
Under California Penal Code Section 273a, child endangerment is a special class of domestic violence that involves putting a child into a "dangerous situation," or allowing someone else to do so, without taking reasonable steps to protect him/her from harm.
Disciplining a child is not normally considered child endangerment. However, if the punishment is excessive or unjustified, it can be construed as endangering the child. In California, spanking by hand is not typically child endangerment, but spanking with a belt or another object might be considered as such.
In general, child endangerment involves the infliction on a child of physical pain, mental anguish, or both. The act must have been done intentionally, not accidentally. The result of the act, such as an injury, need not have been intended so long as the act itself was.
Child endangerment can also mean "placing" a child in a position where he/she would be harmed. This need not mean that the harm itself was intended but only that criminal negligence took place. "Criminal negligence" means that the defendant's actions revealed a reckless indifference to the safety of the child, which put the child in danger of suffering serious harm that reasonably should have been foreseen.
WHAT MUST THE PROSECUOR PROVE?
In order to prove you guilty of child endangerment, the prosecutor must establish beyond a reasonable doubt the following: 1) you willfully inflicted unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering on a child, OR you willfully caused the child to suffer physical pain or mental anguish, OR you caused or allowed a child in your care to be injured, OR you caused or allowed a child in your care to be placed in a dangerous situation; 2) if the allegation is that you did not act willfully but that you allowed the child to get hurt, you acted with criminal negligence; 3) you were not properly disciplining the child.
It is not necessary that you intended the harm itself or that you knew the act in which you had engaged was illegal or constituted endangerment. All that the prosecution needs to show is that you acted willingly—that is, you purposefully and intentionally engaged in an act that resulted in pain and suffering to the child. For example, Jill places her infant child in the care of her physically abusive boyfriend. One day, Jill’s child suffers a concussion. Though Jill did not intent to break the law or put her child in a dangerous situation, she willfully placed her child in the care of someone whom she knew was physically violent and dangerous. Jill can therefore be charged with child endangerment.
“Unjustifiable Physical pain or mental suffering”
For the pain that you allegedly inflicted to be characterized as “unjustifiable,” it has to be unnecessary or excessive under the specific conditions in which it was inflicted. For example, Jack’s seven-year-old daughter, Jill, throws a temper tantrum at the dinner table and throws a cherry pie at her father. Jack gives Jill a “time out” by placing her in her bedroom and locking the door. Jack’s intent was to discipline Jill but he keeps the child in the room for over 9 hours without any food or water. Under the circumstances, the pain and suffering that Jack inflicted on Jill was excessive and thus unjustifiable. Jack could therefore be charged with child endangerment.
You act with criminal negligence if all of the following are true: 1) you conduct was a drastic departure from the way an ordinary person in your situation would have acted; 2) your actions revealed an indifference or disregard to human life; 3) a reasonable person in your situation would have known that acting in the way you did would have resulted in harm to the child. For example, Jill, a meth addict, keeps methamphetamine and paraphernalia in the house where her two toddler children reside. The material is strewn all over the living room. One day, Jill’s three-year-old daughter picks up a piece of paraphernalia and stabs her one-year-old sister with it. Jill acted with criminal negligence because she knew or reasonably should have known that keeping her children around the substance and its paraphernalia was a safety risk. Jill can therefore be charged with child endangerment.
What is NOT criminal negligence is any act that was based on just carelessness or a lapse in judgment. For example, Jill leaves her 3-year-old son in a parked car as she steps out of the car to pick up her purse from the house. Jill is gone for 3 minutes. When she returns, she sees that another vehicle has crashed into her car. Jill’s son is injured. Nonetheless, Jill cannot be found guilty of child endangerment because her conduct did not rise to the level of criminal negligence. Though she should not have left her son in the car at all, she could not have reasonably foreseen that a car would crash into her parked vehicle.
POSSIBLE PENALTIES FOR CHILD ENDANGERMENT
Child endangerment (PC 273a) can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the nature of the allegations and your criminal record.
When charged as a misdemeanor, child endangerment is punishable by:
- A maximum fine of $1,000
- Up to 12 months in county jail
- Informal probation for a minimum of 4 years
- Mandatory completion of a 12-month Child Abuser Treatment Program
- A possible issuance of a protective order to keep you from again contacting the child
When charged as a felony, child endangerment can be punished by:
- Two to six years in state prison; with an additional 3 to 6 years if "great bodily harm" was inflicted on the child
- Formal probation for a minimum of 4 years
- A fine of up to $10,000
- Mandatory completion of a 12-month Child Abuser Treatment Program
- The possible issuance of a child protective order
- A "strike" on your record under California's "Three Strikes" law
In addition to all of the sentencing elements mentioned above, conviction of child endangerment can also impact your right to own a firearm. In some cases, those convicted might be banned from purchasing, owning, or possessing a firearm for a 10-year period. In other cases, the ban can last for life.
DEFENSES TO CHILD ENDANGERMENT
At Los Angeles Criminal Attorneys, rather than employing a “cookie cutter” approach, we take the time and effort to build a “customized” defense for each case of child endangerment. The following defenses are commonly explored by our office. What particular defense applies to you depends on the specifics of your case.
- The act that endangered the child's safety was not intentional: If you accidentally endangered or harmed a child, then you did not have the requisite intent and therefore cannot be charged with child endangerment. For example, you might have entrusted your child with another individual whom you had no reason to suspect would be negligent with your child. If the person is negligent and endangers your child, you acted with neither criminal negligence nor intent.
- The accusations of child endangerment are simply false: In many situations, such as in a divorce or custody dispute, an estranged spouse may concoct allegations of child endangerment in order to gain leverage in the divorce or custody battle. In other cases, endangerment may have occurred, but the accuser may have been the true guilty party or the defendant may have been wrongly assumed as a culprit simply because of his/her relationship with or access to the child.
- No endangerment took place: What was misconstrued by the police and prosecution as “child endangerment” was justifiable child discipline. You may have been inflicting corporal punishment, such as spanking, on your child as a proper way of disciplining him or her.
HOW CAN WE HELP
At Los Angeles Criminal Attorneys, we have extensive experience handling all types of child endangerment cases. We see no case as "hopeless" and will relentlessly and rigorously fight on your behalf to secure the best possible outcome in your case.
For a free legal consultation, call us anytime 24/7/365 at 424-333-0943.