Child abuse is a common and worrying trend in California. You commit the crime of child abuse when you willfully inflict cruel punishment on a minor. There are different forms of child abuse, including physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. Many people interacting with a child could notice signs of bodily injury and report them to the authorities. Cases of abused children attract sympathy from everyone, and fingers could be pointed at the accused without proper investigation.

California Penal Code 273(d) addresses child abuse charges, and a conviction will result in severe consequences. In addition to spending time behind bars, having such a conviction on your record affects your relationships with your family and causes severe societal trauma. Your choice of a legal representative can make the difference between facing a conviction for child abuse and walking away from the charges with a dismissal or not guilty verdict. Our skilled attorneys at Los Angeles Criminal Attorney will offer you the much-needed legal advice to fight your charges in Los Angeles, CA, and secure a favorable outcome. 

Understanding California Child Abuse Laws

Children are a vulnerable group in society. Their extreme dependency and inability to defend themselves make them an easy target for violence and abuse. Child abuse laws seek to punish individuals who cause harm to children under eighteen years or place them at risk. Under California PC 273(d), child abuse is the crime you commit when you inflict corporal punishment or injury resulting in a traumatic condition. 

In California, parents have the right to raise and discipline their children however they see fit. However, this right comes with the responsibility to protect the child from potential harm. If your attempt to discipline your child goes too far and you cause them injury, you risk facing arrest and criminal charges under PC 273(d).

Child abuse can occur in different forms, including:

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is any non-accidental physical harm inflicted on a child by an individual tasked with caring for or protecting them. Although your actions may be geared towards disciplining the child, they could be mistaken for abuse if the victim suffers an injury. There are many reasons caregivers and parents could cause physical harm to a child, including anger and unrealistic expectations. A physically abused child may exhibit aggressive behavior that is easily noted by other people and reported to the police.

Emotional Abuse

Child emotional abuse comes from acts of maltreatment and psychological torture. This type of child abuse is often experienced by minors who have witnessed domestic violence. Although other forms of child abuse accompany emotional abuse, the court doesn’t require evidence of physical abuse to prosecute wrongdoers. Most individuals commit the crime of emotional child abuse by omission or commission. An omission is the failure to protect the child while the commission acts in a way that causes them emotional distress.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse of minors occurs when an adult engages in lewd conduct with a child. Children cannot consent to any form of sexual contact. Therefore, exposing a child to sexual material is a form of abuse that attracts an arrest and conviction under PC 273(d). Child sexual abuse happens in secret, and all children are vulnerable to this form of abuse.

Mandated Reporting Laws in California

The Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act requires some professionals to report suspected child abuse, for example:

  • Instructional aids
  • Teachers
  • Public assistance workers
  • Employees at a daycare facility
  • Social workers
  • Peace officers
  • Medical examiners 
  • School counselors

Since these individuals have constant and direct interactions with minors, they must write a report to the social services agency or law enforcement within thirty-six hours of suspected abuse. A child abuse report will include:

  • The contact information.
  • The title makes the individual a mandated reporter.
  • Details on the incident that caused the reporter to suspect child abuse.

Elements of Child Abuse

The prosecution proves your guilt under PC 273(d) by establishing the following elements:

  1. You Willfully Inflicted Inhuman Punishment on a Child

Your actions against a child are considered willful if you act deliberately. The court can still find you guilty of child abuse even when you did not intend to violate the law or cause harm to the child. The only fact that must be clear is the intention to engage in the particular act. Ordinary acts that could be classified as inhuman punishment under this statute include:

  • Punching
  • Pushing
  • Shaking
  • Choking
  • Kicking
  • Throwing a child against a wall
  1. The injury Caused a Traumatic Physical Condition

Another element that the prosecutor must prove when establishing your guild for child abuse is that the injury you inflicted on the child resulted in a traumatic condition. Under this statute, a traumatic condition is a bodily injury or wound caused by the direct impact of force. When proving this element of child abuse, it must be clear that the injury was a probable and direct consequence of your actions. You must understand that the wound or injury needed to show a traumatic condition does not have to be significant. A minor cut or scrape is enough to establish a conviction.

  1. When you Acted, You Were not Disciplining the Child.

Corporal punishment of a child is acceptable in California. Parents have the right to discipline their children, even spanking. However, when you use excessive force and cause injury to the child, your acts will be viewed as child abuse. When establishing your liability for the crime, the prosecutor must prove to the court that your actions against the child were not aimed at disciplining them.

In addition to proving the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, the prosecution can introduce prior incidences of domestic violence or child abuse in your case. Even when your prior domestic violence arrests did not end in a conviction, these allegations can be used to show your tendency to violence toward other people. However, before the prosecutor can introduce this evidence to your case, the court will hold a hearing where the judge determines the relevance of the evidence. Factors that the judge may consider at the hearing include:

  • Whether or not the evidence prejudices the jury.
  • Whether there is corroborating evidence in earlier allegations.
  • The amount of time has elapsed between the prior and current criminal allegations.

Sentencing and Punishment for Child Abuse in California

California law has a zero tolerance law on violence against a child. If you are found guilty of inflicting injury or corporal punishment on a minor, you risk facing severe legal consequences. Child abuse is a wobbler. A wobbler is an offense that can attract felony or misdemeanor charges. Usually, the decision on the nature of your charges under this statute is made by the prosecution. Some of the factors that could impact how your child abuse crime is charged include:

  • Level of Harm Done to the Child. The state is more likely to charge you with felony child abuse if your actions result in severe physical injury to the child. Regardless of the seriousness of the injury, causing noticeable harm to a minor attracts a felony conviction.
  • Nature of Abuse. Your acts against the child are significant in determining the nature of your charges. When you engage in cruel actions on the child or the injury involves sexual violence, there is a high likelihood that you will face a felony charge. Willful torture or caging of a child is considered a case of aggravated child abuse.
  • Your Criminal History. California criminal laws are stringent on repeat offenders. Having a criminal history indicates that prior punishment and rehabilitation attempts were not enough to discourage you from criminal conduct. If you have a previous conviction for child abuse or other forms of domestic violence, the prosecution will file and seek a conviction for a felony.
  • Your Cooperation with Law Enforcement Officers. Police officers are often quick to react to reports of child abuse. Your reaction and conduct during the arrest and investigation will determine how the prosecution files your charges under PC 273 (d).
  • The Strength of the Prosecution’s Case. It is more challenging to prove guilt in a felony case of child abuse than in a misdemeanor. Therefore, the prosecutor will assess their evidence against you when deciding. If there is sufficient evidence to prove that you caused injury to a child, the prosecution will file a felony charge.

Under PC 17, the prosecution and judges can discreetly reduce your felony wobbler to a misdemeanor. The court makes this decision under the following circumstances:

  • At the preliminary hearing,
  • At the time of your
  • When you file a petition to reduce your felony to a misdemeanor,

The judge is more likely to reduce your felony to a misdemeanor if you have an insignificant criminal record or were a passive participant in the child abuse acts. When charged as a felony, a conviction for child abuse will attract a jail sentence of up to six years and a maximum of $6,000 in fines. If you have a prior child abuse conviction within the last few years, the court could increase your jail sentence by four years. On the other hand, a misdemeanor conviction is punishable by a year in county jail and $6,000 in fines.

In addition to the jail time and fines, a felony conviction for child abuse is a strike under California’s three strikes law. The court doubles your sentence if you already have a strike on your record.

Long-Term Consequences of a Child Abuse Conviction

The impact of your child abuse conviction doesn’t end when you serve your jail time and pay the fines. Some of the collateral consequences associated with this crime include:

  • Restraining Order. Like in other domestic violence cases, the court wants to protect the victim. Therefore, the judge may issue a restraining order requiring you to avoid all contact with the child. You may have to move out if you live in the same household as the alleged victim.
  • Loss of Child Custody Rights. Most child abuse charges and convictions arise amid separation and divorce proceedings. When dealing with child custody and visitation hearings in the family court, a conviction for child abuse could dim your chances of receiving child custody. If you already have child custody rights. The other parent of your child could seek a modification using your conviction as a justification.
  • Difficulty Acquiring and Retaining a Job. Especially when child abuse is charged as a felony, the conviction will leave a permanent mark on your record. Since all convictions are public records, your potential employers can discover the conviction and use it to deny you an employment opportunity.
  • Many landlords base their decisions on whether to offer you a house on your criminal background. A PC 273(d) conviction may harm your chance of acquiring decent housing.
  • Ability to Adopt or Foster a Child. The agency will dig into your criminal record before you become an adoptive or foster parent. The agency will not allow you to adopt a child if you have been accused of abusing a child.
  • Family Relationships. A child abuse allegation, arrest, and conviction can shake your family dynamics. You cannot spend time with the child when the court takes away your custody rights and issues a restraining order.
  • Loss of Gun Rights. If you face a conviction for child abuse as a felony, you risk losing your right to possess or purchase a firearm.

Defenses Against Child Abuse Charges

Although child abuse laws are strict, an arrest doesn’t mean you will face a conviction. With guidance from your lawyer, you can present the following defenses to your case:

False Allegations

Child abuse is a severe accusation in California. Focusing on children’s wellbeing and protection above everything else creates a dangerous consequence for individuals who face false accusations. Even without sufficient evidence, law enforcement officers will respond to the allegations and arrest the alleged perpetrator. Due to societal pressure to hold someone accountable for child abuse, investigators may fail to investigate the allegations thoroughly.

Some of the reasons why a person could feel compelled to raise false accusations of child abuse against you to include:

  • Need to Hide One’s Crime. A person could accuse you of abusing a child to escape the consequences of their criminal actions. 
  • Child Custody. Most child abuse allegations arise in the middle of child custody battles. The other parent of your child can accuse you of child abuse to increase their chances of receiving child custody.
  • Anger, jealousy, or Revenge. The consequences of a child abuse accusation are severe even when you do not face a conviction. A person may be driven by anger, jealousy, or the need for revenge to accuse you of violating California PC 273(d).

If you believe that you are a victim of false child abuse allegations, you will require a skilled attorney to investigate the facts of your case and prove that you did not commit the crime.

Accidental Injuries

Mandated child abuse reporters can face misdemeanor charges and punishment for failure to report instances of child abuse. Therefore, this can prompt the reports to interpret any injury or changes in a child’s behavior or abuse. If the injuries noted on the child resulted from a legitimate accident and not aggression, you could use this defense in your case.

You Did Not Cause Injury to the Child

You will be the first suspect of child abuse allegations as a parent or guardian. If a mandated reporter reports signs of abuse in your child, you can face an arrest and criminal charges. Unfortunately, your child may have suffered abuse at another person’s hands. Although you can use this defense to avoid a child abuse charge, they could still convict you of child endangerment for failure to protect your child from harm.

You Were Disciplining the Child

Parents have the right to discipline their children. However, the discipline must be reasonable and should not cause any harm to the minor. Unfortunately, spanking your child can result in accusations of abuse. A jealous or angry partner can use your acts of discipline as an excuse to bring child abuse allegations against you. The discipline defense against your charges is more effective when there is no evidence of injury or harm to the minor.

Offenses Related to Child Abuse 

Child abuse falls under the broad category of domestic violence crimes. When prosecuting you under PC 273 (d), there are some related offenses that the prosecution could introduce in your case, including:

Child Endangerment

Child endangerment is one of the most damaging criminal allegations. California PC 273(a) defines child endangerment as domestic violence involving exposing a minor to dangerous conditions. 

If you expose the child to injury or allow another person to cause them harm, you can face charges under this statute. If you face child abuse charges and there is no evidence that you inflicted injury on the child, the prosecution can accuse you of endangering the child and thus seek a conviction under PC 273(a).

When establishing your guilt under PC 273(a), the prosecutor must prove these elements:

  • You willfully inflicted physical or psychological suffering on a minor.
  • You placed a juvenile in a position to be harmed by another person.
  • Your actions were criminally negligent.
  • When you acted, you did not intend to discipline the minor.

Child abuse is a wobbler, and the nature of the charges you face will depend on the specific factors of your case. A felony child endangerment conviction is punishable by:

  • Prison time ranges from two to six years.
  • Maximum of $10,000 in fines.
  • Up to five years of formal probation.
  • Strike under California Three Strikes Law.

Child Neglect

Under California Penal Code 270, child abuse is a parent’s failure to provide for their child's needs. A parent has a wide range of choices in raising their child. However, this right comes with a responsibility to provide for the child's basic needs. If you caused a child’s injuries and allowed them to suffer a lack of basic needs, you risk facing criminal charges for child abuse under PC 273(d) and PC 270.

The elements that help the prosecution prove your criminal liability under PC 270 include:

  1. You are a Parent of a Minor Child. For this statute, a minor is any person under eighteen years. You must understand that this law accounts for all children, including the unborn. You cannot face an arrest for child neglect unless the prosecution proves that you are a biological, foster, or adoptive parent of the alleged victim.
  2. You Failed to Provide the Necessities for the Minor. Another element that must be clear to obtain a child neglect conviction is that you failed to provide needs for your child. Necessities, in this case, include food, clothing, medical care, and shelter.
  3. Your Actions were Willful. PC 270 requires you to do everything reasonable to provide for your child’s needs. The only lawful reason not to care for your child’s necessities is lack of an income or inability to provide.

A violation of PC 270 is a misdemeanor. A guilty verdict under this statute can see you spend a year in jail. Additionally, the court may require you to pay a maximum of $1,000 in fines.

Find a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Under California law, it is a crime to inflict physical harm or injury on a child under eighteen years. Although corporal punishment is legal, using excessive force to discipline a child will attract an arrest and criminal charges under PC 273(d). In the state's attempt to protect all children, child abuse laws are designed to prosecute and punish child abusers harshly. Child abuse allegations are always severe, and a conviction attracts severe legal consequences. Even when your charges do not result in a conviction, the social stigma associated with these allegations is immense. 

Fortunately, not all arrests under this statute have a basis for filing charges and obtaining a conviction. The seriousness of a child abuse charge makes it a common target for false allegations and exaggerations. If you or your loved one is arrested and charged with violating PC 273 (d), you will require skilled legal guidance. At Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we will review the facts of your case and use the details to build a strong defense against your charges. We serve clients seeking legal advice and representation to fight a domestic violence charge in Los Angeles, CA. Contact us today at 424-333-0943.