Parents, guardians, and adults close to children have a legal responsibility to protect them from any danger or risk of harm. Failing to do so could result in criminal charges. Child endangerment is a form of child abuse that entails exposing a minor to unjustifiable suffering, pain, and danger. It could also entail unreasonably exposing a minor to a risk of danger even when the child does not suffer physical harm. The California law against endangering a child is stringent, providing severe consequences for those found guilty. Penalties include time in jail and a hefty fine.
It helps to seek adequate legal help from a competent criminal attorney if you face child endangerment charges in Los Angeles today. We offer guidance, support, and a solid defense against your charges at Los Angeles Criminal Attorney. Our team of competent criminal lawyers will not rest until you obtain a fair outcome for your case.
Legal Definition of Child Endangerment
A child refers to any individual below 18 years of age. These individuals are usually under the care of their parents, guardians, and other adults. They are incapable of making rational decisions, protecting themselves, or giving consent. Thus, adults are mandated to ensure that children are safe, well-provided for, and well-taken care of at all times. Neglecting the needs of a child is criminal in California, and so is exposing a minor to any harm or risk of danger. It helps to know what child endangerment means, what it constitutes, and how you can fight your charges if you face charges for child endangerment in Los Angeles today.
California law defines child endangerment as exposing a minor to unjustifiable suffering, pain, danger, or an unreasonable risk of harm. Endangering a child does not mean that they have suffered injury, pain, or danger. Your charges apply even though the child does not suffer an injury.
Charges against child endangerment could be brought against any adult, not just the victim's parents or guardian. Anyone close to a child must not do or fail to do anything that could expose the child to unreasonable pain, suffering, or risk of injury.
Child endangerment is a broad term referring to several actions or omissions that could expose a minor to the risk of harm or unjustifiable pain and suffering. You will face charges under this statute for:
- Causing or allowing a minor to suffer unjustifiable mental or physical pain
- Willfully causing or allowing a child to sustain physical injuries
- Willfully causing or allowing a child to be in a dangerous situation where they could suffer physical or mental harm
- Leaving a knife, loaded gun, or any other hazardous weapon within a child's reach
- Allowing a person with a history of abuse to babysit a child
- Tattooing or letting another person tattoo a child
- Failing to take a child to the hospital when they are sick or after an injury
- Failing to provide adequate meals for a child under your care
- Throwing a child out of the house in the middle of the night after a misunderstanding
Child neglect laws permit parents to seek faith-based intervention for a sick child. However, if a child becomes seriously ill or is ill for a long time, the law requires parents to seek actual medical treatment. Parents or guardians who fail to do that could face charges, including child endangerment charges under California domestic violence law.
Elements or Facts of the Offense
A conviction for child endangerment comes after the prosecutor proves all elements of this offense beyond reasonable doubts. These elements, as provided under California PC 273(a), are:
- That you committed any of these acts:
- You willfully caused a minor to suffer unjustifiable physical or mental pain, or
- You willfully or knowingly caused or allowed a minor to suffer unreasonable physical or mental pain, or
- While the victim was under your care, you willfully caused them physical or mental pain or allowed another person to inflict physical or psychological pain on them, or
- You willfully placed or allowed another person to place a child under your care in a circumstance where their physical or mental health could be endangered.
- You were criminally negligent since you caused or allowed a child under your care to suffer, sustain an injury, or be in danger.
- Even if the victim is your child, you failed to administer reasonable discipline at the time.
If you placed the child in a position where they were to suffer significant physical harm or death, you could face felony charges for child endangerment. Remember that it does not matter if the victim does suffer a significant bodily injury or death for your charges to hold. What is necessary is that you acted or failed to act in a manner that could have caused harm to a minor under your care.
Let us look at these elements in greater detail to understand this statute even better:
A Willful Act
Child endangerment entails a willful act. Acting willfully means that you were deliberate in your actions or lack thereof. A willful action is usually on purpose. But, it does not mean you intended to cause harm or commit a crime. It only means that your deliberate acts or omissions could have caused a minor to suffer unreasonable injury or pain.
Example: Ancy, a single mother of two young boys, has to work two daily shifts to make ends meet. She is unable to pay for daycare services for her two little boys. So, she leaves them under the care of her neighbor, whom she suspects of manufacturing and selling illegal drugs. Ancy is constantly worried for her children but cannot do much to help their situation.
One day her neighbor is arrested while she is at work. The police suspect the neighbor of giving Ancy's children drugs without their mother's knowledge. The neighbor faces several counts of criminal charges, including child endangerment. Ancy was also arrested and charged with child endangerment. Her mistake is to leave her children under the care of someone she already suspects of drug dealing.
Unjustifiable Physical or Mental Pain/Suffering
Child endangerment entails subjecting or causing a person to subject a child to physical or mental pain. Unjustifiable suffering is:
- Not reasonable and necessary
- In excess, considering the underlying circumstances
Note that California law allows parents to administer reasonable punishment to their children. Punishing a child unreasonably or subjecting them to excess punishment under the given circumstances could support child endangerment charges, especially if the punishment places the child in danger of physical or mental pain.
The aspect of criminal negligence means that your actions exceeded ordinary negligence, mistaken judgment, and inattention. You would be considered to have acted with criminal negligence in situations like:
- Where you act recklessly in a manner that grossly exceeds how an ordinary person would behave in a similar situation
- Your actions totally disregard the safety and well-being of the victim.
- You are indifferent to the consequences of your actions.
- An average person would reasonably know that behaving as you did will naturally and probably cause harm to the minor.
Criminal negligence refers to behavior that is gross, aggravated, and reckless or behavior that goes against the norm. The jury will test whether a rational person, under similar conditions as you, would have behaved similarly. If not, your actions will be criminal.
Example: June will do anything to keep her 16-year-old son, Sammy, from committing another crime. Sammy is currently grounded and not allowed to go out to the streets, under whatever circumstances. But he is stubborn, always giving his mom a hard time. June resulted in locking her son in his room whenever she left the house to keep him at home and out of possible danger.
Locking a child at home seems criminal, but June does so to keep the child out of trouble with law enforcement. June's actions are not considered criminal negligence and will not support charges for child endangerment.
Remember that if an act results from inattention, carelessness, or mistaken judgment, it does not qualify as criminal negligence, notwithstanding the consequences.
Example: Paul is a famous gun dealer. He keeps most of the guns he sells and lends at home. Primarily, Paul lives alone, but sometimes his six-year-old son comes to spend a few days with him. Paul does nothing to hide some of his guns whenever his son is around. Most of those guns are usually loaded and placed within the child's reach. Paul is criminally negligent for putting loaded firearms in places where a six-year-old can easily find them. A rational person would know that a gun must be placed beyond a child's reach.
Great Physical Injury or Death
A felony charge for child endangerment occurs if the victim is at risk of suffering a great physical injury or losing their life due to the defendant's actions.
A great physical injury, under California law, refers to any significant bodily harm. A trivial, minor, or moderate injury does not count in this case.
A significant physical injury will require hospitalization or extensive medical treatment. California courts determine substantial physical injuries on a case-to-case basis.
Remember that felony child endangerment does not necessarily mean a child has suffered a significant physical injury. The primary factor is that you placed the child in a situation where they could suffer a severe bodily injury or even die. When a child suffers severe harm due to your actions or omissions, the prosecutor will likely file a felony charge against you.
Fighting Child Endangerment Charges in Court
California judges treat crimes against children very seriously. Thus, you will likely receive a severe penalty if guilty under the law. But you can avoid a conviction if you put up a good fight against your charges in court. That would be possible with the help of a skilled criminal attorney. Luckily, your attorney has several legal defense strategies that they can use in your favor to compel the jury to dismiss or reduce your charges. Some of the best techniques available for you are:
You Did Not Act Willfully
Remember that child endangerment charges require a willful act. You must have acted or failed to act in a manner that endangered a child. If that is not the case, you will not be guilty under the law. Also, the district attorney must demonstrate that your actions were willful beyond reasonable doubt for the court to find you guilty. If a child sustained injuries due to ordinary negligence or accident, you would not be guilty under PC 273a.
Example: Sally is taking a walk with her two-year-old. She stops to greet and talk to her neighbor, who is just arriving home from work. Before she realizes it, her son runs off towards the busy street and is almost knocked down by a speeding vehicle.
Sally was inattentive and not grossly negligent in putting her son at risk of harm. In that case, she is not guilty under California PC 273a.
You Were Reasonably Disciplining Your Child
Parents are allowed to administer punishment to their children, but there are limits. Discipline should be reasonable at all times. You are guilty under PC 273a if you unreasonably punish a child or use excess punishment under the circumstances.
However, parents are sometimes criticized for how they administer discipline. For instance, spanking, sending a child to bed without food, or confining a child to their room are considered cruel and inappropriate punishment methods. Thus, they could be reported and charged with child endangerment even if their punishment methods are reasonable and not excessive. If you were merely disciplining your child, your attorney could convince the jury to have the judge dismiss your charges.
You could also cite false accusations to compel the judge to dismiss your charges. That would work in cases where you are accused of an act or omission that you know nothing about. Children make false accusations about their parents, guardians, or other adults in their life for various reasons. It could be that the child is angry with you or wants to get back at you for something you did or failed to do. Some children's caretakers also make false accusations to cover up their abusive acts.
Your attorney can put up a good fight against the allegations to have the court drop your charges.
Mistake of Facts
Your attorney could use this strategy in your defense if the police or your accuser were mistaken by what they saw or heard. Some people are quick to interpret situations and easily make mistakes, especially if they think a minor is in danger. For instance, a doctor can accuse a parent or guardian of child endangerment if they suspect a child they are treating is not receiving adequate care at home. Teachers and even the clergy make similar mistakes all the time. California law puts people like these under pressure to report suspected child abuse and domestic violence cases. If they fail to do so, they could face misdemeanor charges.
Penalties for California Child Endangerment
Penalties and sentencing for child endangerment vary significantly. But, they mainly depend on if your actions placed the child at risk of suffering great physical harm or death.
Misdemeanor Charges for Child Endangerment
You will likely face misdemeanor charges for child endangerment if your actions did not put the victim at risk of suffering a significant physical injury or death. These charges are punishable by the following upon conviction:
- A maximum of six months in jail
- A fine of not more than $1,000
The judge could decide to place you on probation instead of sending you to jail. In that case, you will be on informal or misdemeanor probation for a minimum of four years. Your probation will also entail the following:
- A protective or restraining order protects the victim against further acts or omissions that could harm them. That could include a provision for you to stay away from or not to have any form of contact with the alleged victim. Note that the requirement to stay away could require you to stay away from the child's home even though it is the same place you reside.
- Completing a court-ordered child abuser treatment and counseling program for one year
- More probation conditions if you acted as you did under the effects of illegal drugs or alcohol — The judge could order you to forego alcohol or drugs during probation. You will also be subject to random drug or alcohol testing for probation.
If the judge realizes that one or all the set conditions do not serve the interests of justice, they could waive them. Remember that your probation conditions will be set according to the details of your case.
The court can also terminate your probation before its completion if you comply with the set conditions for the first two years.
You will also be eligible for record expungement once you finish your sentence for the underlying offense. Expungement eliminates all the punishments and disabilities that a criminal conviction brings. It gives you a clean slate from which to start your life. Thus, once you complete your probation, you can file a court petition requesting the expungement of your criminal record.
However, the judge will not grant your expungement petition if:
- You violated one or more probation conditions
- You failed to abide by all the terms of your probation
Felony Charges for Child Endangerment
A child endangerment offense is a wobbler in California if it involves placing a child at risk of suffering a severe physical injury or death. The prosecutor decides whether to charge you with a misdemeanor or felony based on the details of your case and your criminal history.
A felony sentence for child endangerment will attract the following penalties:
- Two, four, or six years in prison
- A court fine of not more than $10,000
The court can decide to send you to prison for up to six years or place you on formal or felony probation for four years. The conditions for your probation will remain the same as those listed under misdemeanor probation.
Once you complete probation and meet all the conditions, you can petition the court to expunge your criminal record. That will give you a fresh start in life without the penalties and disabilities that come with a criminal conviction.
Possible Penalty Enhancement
Additionally, a felony sentence for child endangerment could carry a possible penalty enhancement if the victim sustained a serious physical injury because of your criminal negligence. That enhancement will cause additional prison time, which you should serve consecutively with your sentence for child endangerment.
If you inflicted a significant physical injury on the child, you could receive an additional 3 to 6 years on your sentence, based on the victim's age and the gravity of the injuries.
If the victim dies due to criminal negligence, you could receive four years more on your prison sentence.
You could also face murder or manslaughter charges if a child loses their life due to your criminal negligence.
California PC 273a is also a strike under the California Three-Strikes Law. The offense counts as a strike if the victim suffers a tremendous physical injury or loses their life due to criminal negligence. A strike subjects you to graver penalties if you are convicted of another strike in the future. Thus, if you already have a strike conviction on your record, a conviction for child endangerment will be your second strike, attracting double the penalties provided under the law. A third strike is punishable by 25 years to life imprisonment.
Find an Experienced Criminal Attorney Near Me
If you face child endangerment charges in Los Angeles today, it helps to understand those charges' meaning and legal implications. A skilled criminal lawyer could help you with that. Our team, comprised of highly trained and experienced criminal attorneys at Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, will also walk the legal journey with you, advising, helping, and protecting your rights against violation. We will plan a solid defense to fight your charges and compel the judge to reduce or dismiss your charges. Our services are aimed at helping you obtain a favorable outcome for your case. Call us at 424-333-0943 to learn more about this law and how we could help your situation.