California has several laws meant for children’s protection. Among these laws are child endangerment laws. Child endangerment involves emotional mistreatment, sexual harassment, physical torture, and neglect to a child. At Vista Criminal Attorney Law Firm, we help you fight this criminal offense that can lead to severe penalties when convicted. We serve clients throughout Vista, CA and North County.

What Is Child Endangerment in California?

According to penal code 273a Child Endangerment Laws, anybody who willfully harms a child either physically or emotionally deserves punishment since such acts may lead to child suffering, pain, or even death. If circumstances are genuine but occur in conditions that are not likely to cause harm to the minor, the accused may be charged with misdemeanor child endangerment instead of a felony.

However, if child endangerment leads to the child's death or permanent impairments such as brain injury, the offense may be considered a felony. In this case, multiple sections such as Penal Code 273ab and Penal Code 273 (d) child abuse may apply alongside child endangerment laws. Penal Code 273ab applies in cases where the child involved is under eight years of age, and the child’s caregiver or custodian is the one involved in child endangerment. Contrary, penal code 273 (d) deals specifically with acts of physical injury or physical punishment committed against children other than emotional trauma. Below are the child endangerment instances in California:

  • An individual willfully causes suffering or unjustifiable physical pain to a child under any circumstance;
  • A caregiver willfully exposes a child to a danger which may lead to the endangerment of a minor’s health;
  • Anybody under certain conditions or circumstances may cause or expose the child to injuries leading to health deterioration or child endangerment.

Examples of Child Endangerment in California

When you entrust your child to an abusive or drug addict caregiver, the chances are that you are intentionally exposing your child to drugs which may endanger him/her immediately or in future. The fact that you are aware of the caregiver’s abusive character implies that you are liable for any mistreatment or harm.

When an adult leaves dangerous weapons such as a razor blade, knife, and other loaded firearms to a place where a minor can easily access them and eventually get injured. For instance; if a mother usually places her kitchen knife on the table. One day, when the child is busy playing with toys in her absence, notices the knife and decides to play with the toys and accidentally cut her fingers off. The mother caused or exposed her child to unjustifiable physical pain since she placed the knife in a reachable place, and therefore is liable to child endangerment charges.

Another instance is when a parent or guardian denies her/his child some medical attention exposing them to risks of health deterioration or death. This guardian/parent would be violating the child neglect laws, specifically, child endangerment laws. In a situation where the child is at risk of dying or at bed rest, the law commands the parent to get the required medical treatment regardless of their religious beliefs.

Penalties for Misdemeanor Child Endangerment in California?

The penalties for child endangerment depend on the extent of harm to the child. If there was minor harm (no death or great body injuries) to the child, the crime is a misdemeanor. The penalties of misdemeanor child endangerment crime include a maximum fine of 1000 dollars and/or up to a year in county jail.

What Is Felony Child Endangerment?

Felony child endangerment is a charge caused by aggravating circumstances either through an act or omission. Under this category, the prosecution must show that the child was at risk of death or great bodily injuries. A person charged with felony child endangerment is subjected to a higher range of punishment as compared to a regular child endangerment case.

For a child endangerment crime to be raised to a felony level offense, the court focuses on these aggravating factors:

  1. a) The individual intentionally or willfully harmed the minor; when the individual under negligence or recklessness injures a minor, he or she faces a misdemeanor level of punishment.
  2. b) Under California law, when the risk is likely to cause severe bodily harm or death, the charges increase resulting in a felony crime.

For felony child endangerment crimes, the penalties consist of state incarceration of two, four, or six years. The convict would as well face a fine of up to 10,000 dollars or both the imprisonment and fine.

Other states increase child endangerment charges even when the child suffers mentally. Furthermore, in a case where the defendant consumes controlled substances in the presence of a child or drives a child while drunk, California law assumes that the child was subjected to the immediate danger of serious injuries or even death.

What Are Probation Orders for Child Endangerment in California?

Under the penal code 273a, in case the defendant is convicted for causing child endangerment, the court may give specific orders of probation. Sometimes the judges sentence the defendants to probation depending on the charges. The charges fall under either felony probation or misdemeanor probation.

The court can possibly give the probation orders below:

  1. A minimum period of probation of 48 months which is mandatory;
  2. A court order is issued that protects the child from any acts of violence or threats;
  3. Successful completion of child endangerment treatment (not less than a year), where the program approved by the probation department is counseled according to the criteria specified in penal code 273a. Besides, the defendant is ordered to abruptly begin to participate in this program upon the grant of probation. On the same note, the defendant is required to produce documents in court to enroll in the probation program within 30 days along with quarterly progress reports. Also, the defendant shall pay, in full, the reasonable fees of counseling the program. If the convicted fails to comply, the terms of probation shall not be lifted. According to subdivision (a) of section 1203, in case the defendant is unable to pay the given fee due to known circumstances, the court may waive or reduce such costs;
  4. If the child endangerment occurred when drugs and alcohol influenced an individual, the defendant should abstain drugs during this period of probation where the officer in charge carries out random tests on her/him;
  5. The defendant is required to complete an extensive parenting class. If he or she fails to complete this course, the child’s parental rights are affected especially if he/she was the real guardian, resulting in a revocation of a defendant’s probation.

How are the Conditions of Probation Waived or Terminated?

When the defendant is granted probation, three instances will determine whether the fees are waived, criminal records expunged, or the probation terminated:

  1. The court may waive the probation fees after finding that the condition was not in the best interests of justice;
  2. If the defendant completes the probation period, their criminal record can be expunged;
  3. The court may give early termination of probation if the defendant complies with the required conditions and terms of probation for the period of one or two years.

Consequently, the judge may deny any petition for expungement in cases where the defendant violated a probation order. In addition, the defendants under felony child endangerment may also face additional criminal charges apart from any form of child neglect or abuse. Such charges may include driving crimes such as drunk-driving and reckless driving. In instances where a person faces further charges, their defense attorney may plea for probation to avoid jail sentences. 

In California, the probation periods range depending on the type of crime committed. However, if the defendant is known to have no criminal record, the probation may be taken away or abolished. Additionally, the court may also impose a minimum period of jail sentence, which will affect the decision on the probationary period though the defendant may request plea for probation to avoid a jail sentence.

Legal Defenses of Child Endangerment Charges

Similar to other criminal offenses, most child endangerment attorneys’ first defense strategy would be to establish the legality of an arrest. Some arrests may not comply with California's search and seizure laws, where the police should have search or arrest warrants. Besides, the police might have displayed misconduct during the arrest by, for example, entrapping the defendant or violating any of their legal rights. In such instances, the defense team would be better positioned to challenge the validity of the arrest.

The legal defenses specified to child endangerment charges entail challenging the prosecutor’s proofs for the various crime elements.

  1. The charges emanated from “Mistake of Facts” accusations may arise when a particular individual mistakes or interprets the situation, otherwise referred to as “mistakes of fact.” In California, professionals such as doctors are required to report any sign of child endangerment to the authorities; but they can do so with no proof of the real person who committed the crime. If the defense team is able to show the court that the defendant is a victim of mistake of facts, the charges would not have any legal basis under child endangerment laws.

  2. The defendant was legally known in disciplining his or her child. According to California law, parents have the right to punish their children through conscious acts of physical punishment. The defense attorney may convince the judge that the defendant had reasons to discipline that child, and that the parent observed safe child punishments as stipulated in the law. Examples of safe punishments that a parent can use are: carefully beating a child for wrongdoing using a soft belt or paddle; closing your child in their room; denying a child his/her favorite snack, cartoon or toys; having the child go to bed without supper.

  3. The act was not intentional or willful. Child endangerment defense lawyers can incite doubts in the mind of the judge that the prosecutor’s proof for the “element of intent” was not enough to ascertain that the defendant acted intentionally. For instance, it is possible to claim that an injury to the child was a result of ordinary negligence (that is not punishable under pc 273) or an accident.

  4. The defendant was falsely accused of child endangerment. Most child endangerment cases are known to start with false allegations as a result of child manipulation by the other parents. Take for example, a divorce where the father marries another woman (a stepmother). The stepmother may not love the child enough to the extent of causing false accusations fall upon her covering up her true character, making the child demand her/his birth mother.

The criminal attorney may raise that essential piece of evidence to claim the innocence of the accused. This is managed by the investigators interviewing all the mentioned witnesses. Also, the interview may be done to other close individuals in the defendant’s life to prove that the defendant is a reliable caregiver or parent.

Offenses Related to Child Endangerment

Child Abuse under Penal Code 273 (d)

Child abuse is a common offense often confused with child endangerment. It’s also known as Corporal injury on a child and entails an infliction of physical injury and punishment on a minor, regardless of the severity of the injury. Therefore, child endangerment and abuse are distinct in the fact that the latter doesn’t necessarily require the presence of great body injury. Examples of child abuse include:

  • Hitting a child hard with a belt to discipline him/her;
  • Slapping a child hard until you leave some visible marks in her/his skin;
  • Punching your child for wrongdoing leaving marks or bruises on the body.

California law punishes individuals who abuse children with either felony or misdemeanor penalties. Felony child abuse is when through the omission of action another person or the parent/guardian directly recklessly, negligently, and intentionally injures a child. The felony penalties include: a maximum fine of 6000 dollars and/or state imprisonment for two, four, or six years.

Under the penal code 273 (d), the child abuse case may be charged as a misdemeanor when a minor injury, under negligence, occurred to the child. The misdemeanor penalties include: a maximum fine of 6000 dollars and/or a county jail term of up to one year.

Driving Under the Influence

A person can be charged with driving under influence offense if they are under any intoxication, either from drugs or alcohol. Such a person will be charged under the normal DUI laws (Penal Code 23152). Notwithstanding the severity of the punishments for drunk-driving (especially when the driver has multiple violations or a bad criminal record), the driver will face severe punishments when a minor is involved.

In short, a DUI prosecutor can charge a DUI offense with child endangerment enhancement, which is enough to make the DUI charge a felony.

Charges Involving Death of a Child Under Eight Years of Age

Under penal code 273ab, when child abuse results to a death of a minor (under 8 years old,) a prosecutor may level the charges to death of a minor under eight years old as a result of abuse. The penalty for violating this provision is a minimum of 25 years in the state prison. The maximum prison sentence is lifetime. But three conditions must be satisfied before such a conviction: the defendant assaulted the child resulting in severe bodily harm, that he/she was the custodian of a child under eight years old, and the child dies or is paralyzed as a result of the injury

Exposing a Minor to Dangerous Fireworks

When an individual interferes with California health & safety code violations, he or she may be charged with child endangerment. This law prohibits giving, selling, or delivering dangerous fireworks to minors under the age of eighteen. The penalties may include a fine ranging from 500 dollars to 1000 dollars and/or a maximum of one year in county jail.

Lewd Acts with a Minor

California Penal Code 288 PC prohibits touches directed to a minor with bad intentions or for sexual advances. Additionally, the victim must be 14 years or below, or if the perpetrator exceeds the minor by ten years, the law would incorporate victims between the ages of 14 and 15 years. Usually, the perpetrator would be imprisoned in the state prison with fines up to a maximum of 10,000 dollars. But the age difference, the victim’s age, and the relationship between the accused and the victim will determine further consequences. For instance, parents would get their parental rights limited if they violate this statute.

Child Neglect or Failure to Provide Care Under PC 270

Child neglect occurs when a parent or a guarding fails to provide the basic needs to their children. However, the parent may not be guilty if it was reasonably not their fault not to afford such a necessity. Violation of this statute is mostly punished as a misdemeanor: a maximum fine of 2000 dollars and/or a county jail term not exceeding one year.

Find Vista Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Evidently, multiple charges can accompany child endangerment charges, especially those related to protection of minors. Thus, you need legal representation to fight such charges. Vista Criminal Attorney Law Firm provides you the necessary representation in case you are accused of any of these offenses. Call us today at 760-691-1551 and join our satisfied clients all over Vista, CA and North County.