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Child Abuse: What is the law and punishment?

California Penal Code 273d(a) "Child Abuse" is a "wobbler" meaning it may be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony depending on the circumstances and the defendant's criminal history.  Child abuse can carry serious punishment and an embarrassing charge to have on one's record.

What Must Be Proven in a Child Abuse Case?

California Penal Code 273d(a) misdemeanor requires the following to be proven:

  1. the defendant willfully inflicted cruel or inhuman corporal punishment or injury upon the body of a child; and
  2. the infliction of this punishment or injury resulted in a traumatic condition.

In the United States justice system, a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.  The prosecutor has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt that child abuse occurred.

What are the penalties for child abuse?


PC 273d(a) has maximum fine of up to $6,000 and/or up to 1 year in county jail.


PC 273d(a) has maximum fine of up to $6,000 and/or up to 6 years in state prison or county jail if eligible under PC 1170(h).

May be a strike if inflicted great bodily injury.

May be considered a serious felony if inflicted great bodily injury.

What are the defenses to child abuse?

The child abuse allegations are false

It is not unheard for a person to be falsely accused of child abuse.  A neighbor or ex-cohabitant may make false statements in order to hurt you not fully understanding how serious the charges can turn out to be.  If it can be proven that false statements were made about your alleged child abuse, you should not be found guilty of child abuse.  

The minor was injured by accident

The defendant must have acted willfully.  An accident, even if leading to injury, is not child abuse.  Falling down or slipping that leads to injury is not child abuse if the defendant was not the willful cause of the injury.

The defendant acted within her lawful right to discipline a child 

Parents are allowed to inflict corporal punishment on their children if the punishment is reasonable.  This can be a fine line and must argued carefully to avoid a charge of child abuse.  If the punishment argued to be a lawful disciplinary action, the defendant should not be found guilty of child abuse.

Bottom line, you need an experienced attorney who is willing to walk you through the entire process, evaluate your case effectively for weaknesses and exploit the issues in your case to achieve the best results.  The Law Offices of Steven McNicholl has that experience and will get you through your case in the best shape possible.

See also

PC 273(a) Child Endangerment

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If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime, call the Law Offices of Steven McNicholl at (951) 405-0990. We have the skill and experience in San Bernardino County to protect your rights and get the best results in your case.

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