Crimes Against Children

PENAL CODE 273d – CHILD ABUSE

child abuse attorney

Penal Code 273d states:

“(a) Any person who willfully inflicts upon a child any cruel or inhuman corporal punishment or an injury resulting in a traumatic condition is guilty of a felony and shall be punished by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 for two, four, or six years, or in a county jail for not more than one year, by a fine of up to six thousand dollars ($6,000), or by both that imprisonment and fine.”

Examples

  • Hitting/beating a child with a belt to discipline him/her;
  • Engaging in a physical fight with a teenager that leaves visible injuries on him/her;
  • Slapping a child hard enough to leave visible injuries.

Explanation

It is a criminal offense to commit “cruel or inhuman” corporal punishment on a child which results in an injury. The statute does allow for discipline and physical punishment of a child – e.g., spanking – but draws a line where the punishment is “cruel or inhuman” and injures the child.

Legal Defenses

There are a number of viable legal defenses to child abuse that could lead to charges being either dismissed or reduced. These include any one or more of the following:

  • The child’s injuries were not caused by you (the defendant);
  • The child’s injuries were caused by something other than abuse;
  • The allegations are untrue or false;
  • You were acting within your legal right to discipline your child;
  • The allegations are false;
  • You did not willfully or intentionally injure the child.

Penalties and Punishment

Child abuse is also a “wobbler” and can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. If charged as a misdemeanor, a defendant can be sentenced up to one year in county jail, and/or a maximum fine of six thousand dollars, is possible. As a felony, a defendant who is found guilty can be sentenced to two, four, or six years in state prison. If Defendant retains prior convictions under this law, sentence enhancements are possible, which may significantly increase the potential prison time.

Immigration Consequences

If you are not a United States citizen and are charged with a crime, you are strongly advised to seek legal advice from an attorney on your immigration status. In this case, PC 273d – child abuse – is a serious offense, and is generally considered a crime of moral turpitude. As such, adverse immigration consequences are possible and likely if you are convicted of 273d. You are strongly advised to talk to an attorney if you are charged with this crime.  

PENAL CODE 273a – CHILD ENDANGERMENT 

Penal Code 273a:

“Any person who, under circumstances or conditions likely to produce great bodily harm or death, willfully causes or permits any child to suffer, or inflicts thereon unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering, or having the care or custody of any child, willfully causes or permits the person or health of that child to be injured, or willfully causes or permits that child to be placed in a situation where his or her person or health is endangered, shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or in the state prison for two, four, or six years.  (b) Any person who, under circumstances or conditions other than those likely to produce great bodily harm or death, willfully causes or permits any child to suffer, or inflicts thereon unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering, or having the care or custody of any child, willfully causes or permits the person or health of that child to be injured, or willfully causes or permits that child to be placed in a situation where his or her person or health may be endangered, is guilty of a misdemeanor.”

Explanation

Under Penal Code 273a, it is a crime to willfully (intentionally) permit a child who is under your care or custody to suffer harm or to have that child’s safety or health put in danger. It is important to also note that a person may be found guilty of child endangerment in circumstances even in situations where the child does not suffer any physical or mental injuries.

Examples

  • Leaving your 2-year old child locked in a car on a hot day for several hours;
  • A mother who undertakes dangerous drug transactions in the home where her child lives;
  • Leaving dangerous weapons, such as loaded guns and knives, within reach in a home where children live;
  • Leaving a child with a babysitter or caretaker whom you know to have a history of abusive behavior;
  • Failing to obtain medical care for a very sick child.

Legal Defenses

  • No intent: you did not intentionally or willfully place the child in danger.
  • Wrong person charged: you did not have custody or control over the child
  • Reasonable Discipline: your act constituted necessary and reasonable discipline under the circumstances.

Penalties and Punishment

Child endangerment is a wobbler, and may be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. Charged as a misdemeanor, a defendant charged with violation of PC 273a faces up to a year in jail. As a felony, a child endangerment conviction may result in anywhere from two to six years in California State Prison.

Immigration Consequences

If you are not a United States citizen and are charged with a crime, you are strongly advised to seek legal advice from an attorney regarding your immigration status. In this case, PC 273a – child endangerment – can be a serious offense, and depending on the facts, may be considered a crime of moral turpitude. As such, adverse immigration consequences are possible if you are convicted of 273a and you are strongly advised to talk to an attorney if you are charged with this crime.  

PENAL CODE 270 PC – CHILD NEGLECT/FAILURE TO PROVIDE CARE 

See, Penal Code 270.

Explanation

Under Penal Code 270, it is a crime for a parent to intentionally or willfully fail to provide basic necessities to their minor (under the age of 18, child).  Basic necessities are things such as shelter, food, medical care, or otherwise. 

Child neglect is also a “wobbler” offense and can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor, depending upon the facts of the case and the defendant’s criminal history. If charged as a misdemeanor, the defendant can be sentenced to up to a year in jail, as well as being assessed large court fines, and probation that include parenting classes, counseling, etc. If the charges as a felony, can be sentenced to a year and a day in prison and along with extensive probation terms.

Examples

  • Samantha and Aaron are a married couple with three children. Samantha has a medical condition that makes it difficult for her work. Aaron works in a factory —but is laid off when his company decides to downsize.

Aaron tries to find another job but is unable to do so. The family lose their home, and end up moving into a friend’s apartment. They rely on food stamps and food banks in order to have food to eat, but every few days there is a night when there is no food for the children's dinner.

A teacher at the children's school notifies the police, and Samantha and Aaron are charged with PC 270 child neglect.

In this case, Samantha and Aaron have a reasonable and lawful excuse—lack of money—for failing to provide their children with proper or adequate shelter and food. As result, they are probably not guilty of failure to provide care.

  • But defendants would be considered to have a “lawful excuse” if:
    • Defendants unreasonably chose to spend money on other things that were not necessary for the children’s well-being; or
  • Aaron failed to be diligent in seriously attempting to obtain new employment work.
  • It is likewise important to note that you may not necessarily avoid criminal liability for child neglect just because another parent or other person or organization stepped in and provided your child with the necessities which you did not.

Legal Defenses

  • No willful intent: you were prevented from providing proper care to your child by another person; or you reasonably were not aware that your child was not being cared for. This sometimes occurs in situations where a parent does not have legal custody of the child/children and either does not have control of the child’s care or was not aware of it.
  • You had a lawful excuse: you genuinely and honestly did not have the financial means to provide for your child. Under these circumstances, it does not make sense to punish a parent and can make things worse for the child if the parent is prosecuted.

Penalties and Punishment

Penal Code 270 is usually prosecuted as a misdemeanor. Under those circumstances, a defendant faces up to one (1) year in county jail and/or up to two thousand dollars ($2,000) in fines.

Child neglect may be charged as a felony if the defendant has previously been convicted of that crime. In the unlikely event of it being charged as a felony, a defendant convicted of child neglect may potentially face stiffer punishment. 

Immigration Consequences

If you are not a United States citizen and are charged with a crime, you are strongly advised to seek legal advice from an attorney regarding your immigration status. However, PC 270 – child neglect is not considered a crime of moral turpitude and a conviction on that charge should not have adverse immigration consequences.