Any crime directed at a minor is always treated as a serious offense especially when physical injuries are involved. Most of these offenses are categorized as forms of child neglect, and specifically, child abuse. If you are faced with any of these charges, Vista Criminal Attorney Law Firm is ready to represent you. We serve clients in Vista, CA and the whole of North County.
Legal Definition of Child Abuse in California
Penal code 273d corporal injury on a child or child abuse laws makes it a crime to physically injure or impose cruel punishment that can lead to a traumatic condition on a child. Some examples of child abuse under this section are punching, choking, shaking, pushing, kicking, burning, slapping, or kicking a child in an unreasonably human way. These forms of punishment are only justifiable if they are inhuman and cruel or leads to any traumatic condition. Even though there are many forms of these injuries, the law does not define the meaning of cruel and inhuman. Thus, the juries have the ultimate power of determining the kinds of non-injury-causing-acts that are abusive and punishable under this section.
Furthermore, Penal Code §11164 gives a broader aspect of child abuse. This section treats sexual exploitation and sexual assault as serious aspects of child abuse. But similar to PC 273d, these sexual crimes constitute to a child abuse charge if they cause traumatic conditions to the child. Additionally, child molestation, negligent treatment, intentional harm, child endangerment, and mistreatment of a minor are examples of acts that can lead to child abuse charges. The situation surrounding the mistreatment must indicate levels of harm or threatened harm.
The number of child abuse cases are numerous, but those reported are typically few. Attorneys believe that the complexity associated with sentencing child abuse cases make it difficult to sentence. The challenge results from the disruption that such a situation would cause to social relationships and families. Nevertheless, such cases could be reported easily, but the risk exposure to the child is unfathomably high. The cases are highly publicized and become associated with a lot of various stigmas. Hence, such stigmas prompt most family members to take such cases in their own hands rather than having them reported.
Is Child Discipline a Form of Child Abuse?
While considering a case of child abuse, the law often assumes that children have no mental capacity to carter for their own welfare. The courts presume that any choice made by a minor is often the thinking of the child's guardian or parent. A debated topic arises on child discipline and whether it falls under child abuse. The law recognizes some forms of physical child discipline that a caregiver can impose to a child as part of child nurturing. Such forms are physical interactions like confinement, spanking, or restricted privileges. The courts, however, are generally reluctant to interfere with family matters. Therefore, it takes a considerable examination of the case for child discipline to culminate into child abuse.
To determine whether an act of discipline is child abuse, the circumstances surrounding the abuse are essential. These circumstances are best expressed using questions asked by prosecutors when filing child discipline as child abuse charges:
- After disciplining the child, did he/she continue disobeying?
- On the event of punishing the child, was the parent trying to instill fear?
- Did the parent allow the child to explain what prompted them to disobey, or rather explain their situation?
- Does the child suffer from an illness or disorder that prompts them to act in a particular way? Was the child punished for that disorder?
- Is the child afraid of interacting with their parents about their daily preoccupations? Do children avoid interacting with them?
- Does the parent have a history of temperamental issues or drug abuse issues that make them lose control? Does the parent lose control while disciplining their children?
- Does the child have a history of neglect?
- Does the child ever experience moments of fear, anxiety, trauma, or depression?
When facing child abuse, answering yes to all these questions prompts a strong defense. Despite this, you can still face charges child neglect charges such as child endangerment. The implication of these charges is that there are non-violent alternatives to these punishments such as talking to a child and explaining the implications of behaving in a certain way.
There are other circumstances that could result in a child abuse conviction. For instance, California law considers it unlawful to impart physical marks on a child. Punishing a disabled child is also considered illegal and inhumane. When the punishment results into fear or disorder on the child, the prosecutor are likely to file charges for child abuse. Parents and guardians are, therefore, advised to avoid taking their frustrations out while punishing a child. It is important to let your tempers cool as a parent before deciding to instill punishment on the child – crossing the line between child discipline and child abuse could lead to severe court punishment. In doing so, the purpose of the disciplinary action (ensuring that the child does not repeat a similar action) should ultimately positively influence the child.
Is Child Abuse Similar to Child Endangerment?
Even though both offenses are examples of child neglect, child abuse is far different from child endangerment under penal code 273a. For child abuse, the child nursing an injury after punishment, forms the basis of child abuse charges. It means that physical harm has been instigated on the child. On the other hand, child endangerment involves placing the welfare of a child at risk of harm. Both acts, however inhumane they could be, should be purposeful. This aspect of willfulness results to legal defenses that are similar to both Child abuse and endangerment.
The sentence in either offense depends on the implausibility of the charges filed. Both offenses could also attract punishment that involves the offender losing guardianship of a child. In this case, all communications between the child and the custodian is cut. The parent can also face limited and supervised interaction with their children if convicted of either a child abuse or a child endangerment crime.
Elements of Child Abuse
There are certain situations that a prosecutor must consider before having the defendant convicted of child abuse. The prosecutor must provide an analysis of these situations with enough proof. After such analysis, the prosecutor must prove the following facts for valid child abuse charges:
- The defendant purposefully inflicted an inhuman injury or cruel punishment on a child;
- The instilled punishment resulted in the child experiencing a traumatic condition;
- The discipline instilled was not reasonable.
Evidence to prove that the child underwent traumatic suffering would include bruises, a fractured or broken bone, and scratches. In cases where there are no injuries, the prosecutor will justify to the court that the actions were cruel. However, the final decision to categorize any actions as abusive is vested on judges.
Most people tend to confuse the willingly aspect associated with child abuse offenses. It is worth noting that the willfulness aspect only applies to the actual action of the suspect and not the consequences. Henceforth, the defendant could be charged for intentionally striking a child and causing an injury, even when the defendant meant no harm.
How is Penal Code 273d Child Abuse Punished?
Child abuse is treated as a wobbler. The offense could, therefore, be charged either as a felony or a misdemeanor. The least serious cases are the ones charged as misdemeanors and have potentially no prison terms. Punishing child abuse as a felony depends on whether the defendant has prior records of criminal child abuse. The following factors determine how child abuse is punished:
- The situation around which the abuse happened;
- The child’s age;
- Whether the Criminal offense involved sexual abuse and assault;
- Whether the child incurred mental or physical suffering;
- The defendant’s criminal history and prior charges.
Probations are alternative forms of punishment for child abuse (the offender would not face a jail or prison term). In this case, the convict is required to report to a probation officer regularly, complete at least three years of probation term, complete a mandatory one year of counseling program, or undergo random drug tests if he/she was under drugs or alcoholic influence.
Misdemeanor Child Abuse
Misdemeanor child abuse could arise from the infliction of an injury, intentionally allowing an injury to be inflicted to a child, or allowing a child to fall into a substantial risk of getting an injury. It is possible for a good parent to face charges against a misdemeanor child abuse, especially when they cannot moderate the punishment they instill on their children. For instance, it is unlawful to leave behind a child inside a locked house or dwelling with nobody to look after them. It is expected that such a parent or caregiver should have left someone of the age of discretion to take care of the child. A similar scenario can arise when parents leave their children behind in locked vehicles, and the act is seen as the creation of a substantive risk on the welfare of the child.
In most cases, misdemeanor child abuse charges may be dropped for first-time offenders but in exchange for child welfare classes. These classes are meant to help parents to devise alternative ways of creating a lasting mental picture to their children.
Nevertheless, misdemeanor child abuse penalties include a year in county jail, a maximum fine of 6,000 dollars, or both the fine and jail term.
Felony Child Abuse
General interest policies that are meant to cater for children’s welfare may result in the aggravating of child abuse charges into a felony. To determine whether child abuse will be charged as a felony, the mental state of the defendant must be considered. Mental state defines someone's thought processes that resulted in a child's injury. While the mental state increases, the level of child abuse charges increases. There are four mental states that will often determine why a crime was committed: negligence, knowingly, intentionally, and recklessly. The age of the child and the severity of the injury are also determinants for determining the level of offense.
Felony child abuse charges could be mounted through omissions. Omissions are things that a defendant failed to do that resulted in a child's injury. This aspect is essentially debatable since many people are troubled by the reasons for any arrest resulting from not doing something. Contextually, omission charges for child abuse will often apply to a parent, a nanny, custodian, or anyone charged with the wellbeing of a child. Aggressive punishment techniques like depriving children of their basic needs could as well result to parents being charged for failing to provide for their children. Other instances occur when parents are charged for failing to obtain medical treatment for children. Such charges have been trialed with a level of severity despite the fact that some religious beliefs do not allow followers to seek medical treatment.
It is possible to fight a felony child abuse charge by arguing on the basis of intent. For instance, if the defendant is able to prove an injury resulted from reasonable punishment, the law would allow them to seek affirmative defense. Minimal injury marks left behind after thorough punishment of a child using a belt could qualify a defendant to win a felony child abuse case. However, it is typically impossible to have charges dropped where you beat a child with the metal stud of a belt or metals.
There exist two options for sentencing a felony child abuse.
- The court believes sufficient counseling and coaching on parenting would significantly impact a child abuse convict. Hence, the judge subjects the defendant into a parenting program that finally results in the dismissal of charges. When the defendant successfully completes the program and demonstrates good parenting skills, their charges may be dismissed – in exemption where the prosecution defers. The benefit of this program and dropping charges is to safeguard the family unity and social relationships.
- Another punishment to felony child abuse involves negotiating for lesser charges. The defendant focuses on having the child abuse charges dropped to assault family violence charges. Meanwhile, the lesser of the level of charges, typically means a shorter probationary period, fewer family restrictions, and smaller fines.
Failing to turn your child abuse case around into either of the two results to facing felony child abuse penalties. This would entail a maximum fine of 6,000 dollars, a two, four, six-year, imprisonment, or both the imprisonment and fines.
Additionally, for each prior conviction, the jail sentence increases by four years. For example, a person would face 20 years imprisonment (on top of the initial sentence) for violating PC 273d if they have been previously convicted five times for the same offense. The exemption to these jail sentence increments occurs when: (a) the accused completed any prior conviction over ten years ago; (b) the accused has not faced any felony offense convictions in the previous ten years.
Child Abuse and Failure to Report
The department of health and human service claims that over one million children suffer from mistreatment each year. Approximately half of the million cases suffer from traumatizing injuries after abuse. Around 1500 of these children die from child abuse, consequently creating one of the most tragic causes of children social problems. It is important to offset such cases because scientific research carried out experts in child development claim that children who have suffered from child abuse have a high probability of committing a crime.
The number of child abuse cases are rampant; however, few cases are reported. As a result, some states, including California, have put in place mandatory reporting laws. With the mandatory reporting laws, one could be charged for failing to report cases of child abuse and neglect. However, the laws apply to those persons in a position to discover that a certain child is under abuse. Individuals within certain professions may be charged under the mandatory reporting laws. The typical professions include teachers, medical practitioners, and law enforcement officers. Thus, these professionals are tasked with reporting such child abuse cases to agencies regulating child welfare.
Penal Code §11164 makes it illegal for failure to report a child abuse case. The offense is treated as a misdemeanor, and punishable by a maximum of six months in jail and/or a maximum of 1,000 dollars. In some cases, people can report false information of child abuse, leading to prosecution of an innocent person. However, such a defendant will only need to prove that the reporting was false – this will not only lead to the charges dismissed but also the person reporting the information punished with six months in jail and/or a fine of up to 1,000 dollars.
Child abuse charges could attract severe penalties, especially if you have a prior conviction of the same offense. However, Vista Criminal Attorney Law Firm is ready to help you to defend the charges. If you have been charged with child abuse in Vista, CA and North County give us a call at 760-691-1551 and talk to one of our criminal defense attorneys today.