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Jun 30, 2020

Penal Code 273a: California Child Endangerment Law

If you or a loved one has been accused of putting a child in harm’s way, it’s important to know about Penal Code 273a, otherwise known as the California child endangerment law. The big picture is that child endangerment falls under the umbrella of domestic violence, but it differs from the state’s child abuse law and its child neglect law.

Penal Code 273a

Section 273a of the California Penal Code outlines the state’s child endangerment law. In Alameda County and the rest of California, child endangerment encompasses a few different types of situations, seen through the lens of “circumstances or conditions likely to produce great bodily harm or death.” The first is causing a child to suffer or permitting a child to suffer. For example, if Joey has a broken arm and his parents don’t seek medical attention, they can be charged with child endangerment.

The second scenario is willfully causing or permitting a child you have custody of or are caring for to be injured. If Joey’s parents leave a loaded gun on the nightstand, for example, and Joey discharges they gun, then they can be charged with child endangerment. The third is willfully causing or permitting the child to be placed in a situation where their health is endangered. Let’s say that Joey’s parents know that his grandmother has a history of child abuse, but they leave Joey in her care anyway. They can be charged with child endangerment. The fourth is willfully inflicting physical pain or mental suffering.

It’s important to note that anyone age 18 or older – not just parents – can be charged with child endangerment. For example, a babysitter can face child endangerment charges. So can an aunt, a teacher, or a neighbor. In the same vein, California law defines a “child” as anyone under the age of 18. In other words, it doesn’t matter if Joey is four years old or 17 years old. An adult who endangers his health or safety can still be charged.

If you’ve been accused of child endangerment in Alameda County, it’s critical that you tap into the knowledge of an experienced Oakland child endangerment attorney. There is too much at stake not to seek the representation of an Alameda County child endangerment lawyer. You could lose custody of your children, and you could even lose your freedom.

Penalties for a Penal Code 273a Conviction

If you’ve been accused of violating Penal Code 273a, which is California’s child endangerment law, the central question is whether or not the action (or inaction) you took constituted a risk to the child’s life or had the potential for great bodily harm. “Great bodily harm” is an amorphous term that doesn’t have clear meaning under California law. The central issue in a child endangerment case isn’t whether or not the child was injured; rather, it’s whether or not the child was in a situation that could have led to great bodily harm or death.

If the circumstances of your case are such that the child wasn’t at risk for great bodily harm or death, then you are likely charged with misdemeanor child endangerment. In Alameda County and the rest of California, a child endangerment misdemeanor conviction carries a maximum penalty of up to one year in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

On the other hand, if the child was at risk for great bodily harm or death, then the prosecutor has the discretion to file either misdemeanor charges or felony charges against you. This makes child endangerment a “wobbler.” A felony conviction for child endangerment can result in a sentence of two, four, or six years in state prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

The stakes are high, which is why you need an experienced Alameda County child endangerment attorney at your side. Your Oakland child endangerment lawyer understands the criminal justice system and is prepared to navigate it on your behalf. Depending on the circumstances of your case, your lawyer may be able to poke holes in the prosecution’s case. If that’s not possible, then your Oakland child endangerment attorney may be able to negotiate a plea agreement. This might mean that the felony charges are reduced to misdemeanor charges, or that you serve probation instead of jail or prison time.

Probation for a Child Endangerment Conviction

Probation is a sentencing option for a misdemeanor or felony conviction for child endangerment. Under Penal Code 273a, the mandatory minimum probation term is four years. Misdemeanor probation is informal, and doesn’t require checking in with a probation officer. Felony probation is formal, and does require the oversight of a probation officer. If you receive probation in conjunction with a child endangerment conviction, you are required to complete at least a one-year counseling program for child abusers. You may also be subject to a restraining order. If you are found to have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol when the child was endangered, a condition of your probation is abstention from drugs and alcohol, enforced by random drug testing.

While these are the mandatory minimums outlined in Penal Code 273a, the law does include a caveat: “The court may waive any of the above minimum conditions of probation upon a finding that the condition would not be in the best interests of justice.” This means that your Alameda County child endangerment attorney can argue on your behalf that the court should forego one or more mandatory minimums.

California Child Endangerment vs. Child Abuse vs. Child Neglect

People often use the terms “child abuse” and “child endangerment” interchangeably. Under California law, however, they are two different crimes. California Penal Code 273a covers child endangerment, while Penal Code 273d covers child abuse. California’s child abuse law makes it illegal to inflict “cruel or inhuman corporal punishment” on a child, meaning a physical punishment, or an injury caused by physical force, such as slapping, shaking, or choking. The injury can be minor or serious. Like child endangerment, child abuse is a wobbler, in that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

Child neglect is also different than child endangerment. California’s child neglect law, Penal Code 270, is aimed at parents who don’t provide the basics for their children. These basics include food, shelter, clothing, and medical care or what’s called “remedial care” – care by a spiritual practitioner of a recognized church or religion. Child neglect charges are almost always misdemeanor charges, and carry a maximum sentence of up to one year in county jail and a fine of up to $2,000.

It’s important to note that, in Alameda County and the rest of California, it’s common for child endangerment, child abuse, and child neglect charges to be filed at the same time. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If a child is in the car when you get pulled over for a DUI, child endangerment charges can be filed alongside charges of driving under the influence. If you provided an unlicensed minor with a car, child endangerment charges can be tacked on. The same holds true if you sell certain types of fireworks to a minor. If the child died as the result of your actions, you can be charged with a specific type of child abuse, murder, or involuntary manslaughter. Your Oakland child endangerment attorney can leverage their knowledge to sort out the charges, have some or all of the charges dropped, or to arrive at a plea agreement that is the least disruptive to your life.

How Child Endangerment is Discovered

Child endangerment, neglect, and abuse can be reported to law enforcement by anyone, such as a spouse, relative, or neighbor. However, California’s Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act states that 47 categories of people are “mandated reporters.” This means that these people are required by state law to report to law enforcement or a designated county agency their suspicions of child abuse, child neglect, or child endangerment. Mandated reporters include virtually anyone who interacts with a child in an official capacity, including:

  • Teachers and school employees
  • Licensed childcare providers
  • Social services caseworkers
  • Law enforcement
  • Firefighters and EMTs
  • Physicians and mental health providers
  • Members of the clergy
  • Athletic coaches
  • Computer technicians

The California Attorney General is responsible for tracking investigated reports that arise from mandated reports and for maintaining the state’s Child Abuse Central Index (CACI). If you want to know whether or not you’re listed in the CACI, you have the right to ask. You’re required to submit a notarized form or letter to the California Department of Justice that includes your current and previous names, as well as your current and previous addresses.

How Your Oakland Child Endangerment Attorney Can Fight the Charges

Your Alameda County child endangerment lawyer has an arsenal of defenses to mount against accusations of violating Penal Code 273a, California’s child endangerment law. For example, they can first question the conduct of the law enforcement officers who searched or arrested you. Perhaps they conducted an illegal search. Maybe the evidence is inadmissible in court because of an issue with the chain of custody. It could be that there are other factors that can lead to questioning police conduct.

If that is not an option, there are a number of ways your Oakland child endangerment attorney can sow seeds of doubt in the minds of jurors. They can, for example, argue that you didn’t willfully put the child at risk, but rather that it was unintentional or accidental. They can assert that your actions don’t meet the legal definition of criminal negligence. In other words, you didn’t behave any differently than an ordinary, reasonable person would behave in a similar situation.

Your attorney might make the argument that you were within your right as a parent to discipline your child. Corporal punishment – such as spanking your child or sending them to their room – is perfectly legal under California law. If your actions were reasonable, they don’t amount to child endangerment. They could assert that you were falsely accused by your ex-spouse or the child’s other parent. Charges of child endangerment often arise as an act of revenge. Sometimes one person will accuse another in order to cover up their own abusive actions. Other times, it can be a case of mistaken identity, and another person in the child’s life is actually the perpetrator.

Whatever your individual circumstances, your Oakland child endangerment attorney can help. Silver Law Firm has extensive experience defending against charges of child endangerment, and will use that skillfulness in achieving the best possible outcome in your case. Call today for a free, confidential, no-obligation case evaluation.

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