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Child Endangerment: What is the law and punishment?

California Penal Code 273(a)"child endangerment" is a "wobbler" meaning it may be filed as a misdemeanor or felony.  Child endangerment may only be filed as a felony if the endangerment is likely to result in harm or death.  As a felony, significant penalties may result if the case is not properly handled.

What Must Be Proven in a Child Endangerment Case?

Likely to produce harm or death

PC 273a(a) requires the following to be proven:

  1. the defendant acted under circumstances or conditions likely to produce great bodily harm or death to a person; and
  2. the defendant willfully inflicted or permitted unjustifiable physical or mental suffering on a child.

Not likely to produce harm or death

PC 273a(b) requires the following to be proven:

  1. the defendant acted under circumstances or conditions other than those likely to produce great bodily harm or death to a person; and
  2. the defendant willfully inflicted or permitted unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering on a child; or
  3. the defendant willfully caused or permitted victim to be placed in a situation where his or her person or health may be endangered; or 
  4. the infliction of this punishment or injury resulted in great bodily harm or death.

 The prosecution has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt that child endangerment occurred.

What are the penalties for a Child Endangerment?

Felony

PC 273a(a) has a maximum fine of up to $10,000 and/or up to 6 years in state prison.

Misdemeanor

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

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

What are the defenses to Child Endangerment?

The defendant was not the cause of the circumstance

If another person created the circumstances that placed a child in danger, than the defendant is not guilty of child endangerment. 

The defendant did not intentionally endanger the child

The danger must have been willfully caused by the defendant.  Accidents, even if caused by the defendant, is not sufficient because there is a lack of intent on behalf of the defendant to cause the danger.

The defendant was lawfully disciplining the child

Reasonable "corporal punishment"  is legal in California.  This may include spanking, confining to a room, denying a meal, or using a belt or object to discipline a child.  If it can be proven that the discipline was reasonable, the defendant the defendant should not be found guilty of child endangerment.

Another person was responsible for the child

A defendant should not be guilty of child endangerment if another person has custody of the child.  A common example is if another family member or a spouse is watching the child at the time of the endangerment.

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 273d(a) Child Abuse

Contact Us Today!

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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