Throughout the U.S., child abuse incidents are far more common than most people realize, with some six million children being abused each year and some even dying of abuse/neglect. This has led to forceful reporting laws and punishments for child abuse in many states, including California.
However, at Los Angeles Criminal Attorneys, we understand that being falsely accused of child abuse is also very common. We know the details of the California Penal Code concerning this crime and have extensive experience defending a wide range of child abuse cases. We have fought and won dismissals, acquittals, and favorable pleas for numerous past clients, and we stand ready to do the same for you.
HOW DOES CALIFORNIA DEFINE “CHILD ABUSE?”
California Penal Code Section 273(d )defines child abuse as an intentional act that physically injures a child. The intentional act could be a straightforward case of assault and battery or the imposition of a cruel, harmful physical punishment. Slightly different but closely related crimes are "child endangerment" (PC 273a) and "child neglect" (PC 270). These crimes cover psychological and emotional abuse besides the physical. Child abuse (273d) is limited to the physical.
Child abuse takes many forms, including forcefully slapping a child, bruising a child, fighting with and hurting a child, and brutally beating a child for "disciplinary" purposes.
Child abuse is treated very strictly in Los Angeles courts and is aggressively pursued by prosecutors. A conviction or even an allegation can often cost you your reputation, family relationships, job, and freedom.
CALIFORNIA CHILD ABUSE REPORTING LAWS
Penal Code Section 11164 adds further to the definition of “child abuse,” defining the offense as either a willful act or willful neglect. This statute also requires mandatory reporting of suspected cases of child abuse by doctors, healthcare workers, school administrators, police, clergy, and others. A report must be made if the individual witnessed the abuse or knows for certain it took place, but also if he/she merely has a "reasonable suspicion" that abuse occurred. The report must be made to the police, a child protective agency, or certain other specified organizations.
The failure to report abuse or willfully making a false report of abuse are both misdemeanor crimes, punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to 6 months in county jail.
THE ELEMENTS OF THE OFFENSE
To prove you guilty of child abuse in California, the prosecution must establish beyond a reasonable doubt the following: you willfully committed an act that constituted cruel and unusual punishment on a child and/or that caused injury to the child; the victim was legally a child under California law at the time of the incident; your actions were not part of disciplining the child.
It is not necessary that you intended the injury itself or that you knew the act was illegal or constituted abuse. 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 injury to the child. For example, in a moment of frustration, Jill grabs her infant son’s foot and ends up tearing a ligament in the child’s leg. Jill did not intent to hurt the child. But she did intentionally and willingly grab and pull his foot. Jill can be charged with child abuse.
The victim was a child
At the time of the abuse, the victim must have been under the age of 18.
Cruel or inhuman punishment
Penal Code section 273(d) does not define “cruel or inhumane.” However, examples of punishments that are considered “cruel and inhumane” include pushing, shaking, hitting, slapping chocking, burning, or throwing an object at the child. Spanking is typically not considered child abuse if it is done for disciplinary purposes, is necessary, and is not unreasonable under the circumstances.
ADMISSIONS OF PAST CONVICTIONS/ALLEGATIONS AS EVIDENCE
Prior allegations/acts of child abuse
Evidence relating to prior bad acts or criminal offenses is typically excluded at trial. The rationale behind this exclusion is that such history can unduly prejudice a jury and possibly lead to a wrongful conviction. This provision, however, does not apply to Penal Code section 273(d). Prior acts of corporal injury or punishment on a child, even ones that did not result in convictions, can be admissible against the accused in a child abuse prosecution. To be admissible, these prior acts need not involve the same alleged victim or similar circumstances as in your current case. All that the prosecution has to prove is that you committed a prior act of child abuse.
Note that prior acts of child abuse are not automatically admissible. Before the judge permits the prosecutor to introduce prior allegations of child abuse, he or she will conduct a hearing to determine whether the information will unduly prejudice. In making this determination, the judge considers whether the prosecutor has corroborating evidence for the allegations and how much time has passed between the prior bad act and the current charges. If this lapse is more than ten years, the prior bad act is not admissible, unless the judge specifically determines that it serves the interest of justice to allow the proposed evidence.
Prior allegations/acts of domestic violence
The prosecutor can introduce prior acts of domestic violence if those acts occurred in the past 5 years. Still, the judge has to hold a hearing to determine if it is appropriate to admit this evidence—that is, the judge has to decide whether any relevance that the proposed evidence has is outweighed by its potential to unduly prejudice the jury against you. For example, Jack is being prosecuted for child abuse against his girlfriend’s daughter. At trial, the prosecution seeks to introduce evidence that, seven years prior to the current allegation of child abuse, Jack was accused of domestic battery upon his girlfriend, the mother of the alleged victim child. While the allegation was memorialized in a police report, Jack was never formally charged. At a hearing in Jack’s trial for child abuse, the judge determines that the prosecution lacks reliable corroborating evidence for the allegation. The judge therefore decides that the proposed information will unduly prejudice the jury against Jack and possibly lead to a wrongful conviction based on conduct unrelated to the current charge against Jack. The judge then rules that the proposed evidence is inadmissible.
Note that even if evidence of prior acts of child abuse is admitted against you in trial, the judge will specifically instruct the injury that the prior bad acts are not sufficient to prove that you committed the current offense. Rather, they are additional evidence to consider in the jury’s deliberation as to your culpability.
PC 273d (child abuse) can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the specifics of the case and on your past criminal record.
When charged as a misdemeanor, child abuse is punishable by up to 12 months in county jail, a maximum fine of $6,000, and 3 years of summary probation. This is often the punishment when no past record of abuse exists and the offense is not particularly severe compared to other types of child abuse.
When charged as a felony, child abuse is punishable by anywhere from 2 to 6 years of jail time. Especially heinous instances of child abuse and repeat offenses will be charged as felonies. The $6,000 fine still applies in felony cases. Completion of a 12-month treatment program and, if substance abuse was involved, subjection to random drug testing are also possible sentencing elements.
At Los Angeles Criminal Attorneys, we explore any and all possible defenses specific to your particular phase. What particular defense and defense strategy we will ultimately employ depends on the details of your case. Some common defenses to child abuse include:
- You are victim of false allegations. Perhaps, the child was brainwashed by your estranged spouse to fabricate the allegations or exaggerate or distort what transpired.
- The injuries were not caused by abuse but by an accident or a health condition.
- You did not abuse the child. Rather, you engaged in acceptable child disciplinary measures.
HOW CAN WE HELP
Negin Yamini will meticulously and thoroughly examine the particular facts of your case to devise a defense and defense strategy that she will then use to earn a dismissal or reduction of the charges against you. For a free consultation on the details of your case, do not hesitate to call us 24/7 at 424-333-0943.