California Penal Code 273a PC is the statute that punishes the crime of child endangerment. You violate Penal Code 273a when you endanger your child's safety or any other child's well-being who is under your custody.

Upon conviction of child endangerment, you will likely face imprisonment, be subject to hefty fines, or lose some constitutional rights. Having a criminal defense attorney to help build defenses and fight the allegations could help reduce these consequences.

If child endangerment charges are leveled against you in the Monterey area, you can rely on us at Monterey Criminal Attorney for legal representation. We’ll focus on having your charges dropped or possible punishments reduced.

Child Endangerment Definition Under California Penal Code 273a PC

Under PC 273a, child endangerment happens when you allow your child to be in an inherently dangerous situation, for example, by leaving drugs within the reach of the child. California law does not require that your actions result in bodily harm. It only requires that you place the minor in a risky situation where they could be physically harmed.

What "Elements of the Crime" of Child Endangerment Should the Prosecutor Prove?

The court can only convict you of a PC 237a violation if the prosecution has enough evidence that you committed the crime. This evidence can only be established by proving different elements of child endangerment, including:

  • You exposed a child to unjustifiable suffering, pain, or danger
  • You willfully allowed a child to be in a situation that caused harm to them when under your custody
  • You did not reasonably discipline your child as a parent would normally do
  • You showed negligence by causing or allowing your child to undergo suffering or be in a dangerous situation

What Is The Legal Definition Of "Willfully" Under California Law?

Under California law, your act is considered "willful" if you do it intentionally. However, the intent to commit an offense or cause an injury is not required under PC 237a; you only have to willfully perform the actions that could have inflicted harm.

Here is an example: You leave your child under the care of a nanny every day to commute to your workplace. You then start noticing abnormal bruises on your child when you reach home. Every time you see the injuries, you ignore them since you do not have a replacement nanny for your current one.

Due to your negligence, you could face Penal Code 237a charges. This is because you allowed the child to be in an inherently dangerous situation by leaving them with a nanny who repeatedly inflicted physical harm on them.

What Is Unjustifiable Physical Pain or Mental Suffering Under California Law?

Under California law, "unjustifiable pain or suffering" means pain and suffering that is unnecessary and excessive. However, under certain circumstances, you could cause reasonably necessary harm.

For example, when walking your daughter to school, suddenly, an on-coming semi-truck loses control and swerves off the road. Due to survival instincts, you push your child, and they fall on a scrub, breaking their leg as a result.

While your act resulted in physical harm to your child, it was reasonably necessary to save the child from possible death. Should you be arrested for child endangerment, the court will likely dismiss your charges.

What Is The Legal Meaning Of "Criminal Negligence" Under California Law?

You act in criminal negligence when you exceed what California law considers ordinary carelessness or keenness in judgment. Your acts are considered criminally negligent if they satisfy the following:

  1. You behave recklessly, for example, by acting differently from how a cautious person would act in a similar situation.
  2. Your actions demonstrate a dangerous disregard for safety and life and a lack of care for others.
  3. A reasonable person would understand that such an act could easily cause physical harm to others.

What Are the Examples of Criminal Negligence Under California Penal Code 273a?

Below are examples of criminal negligence. The first section illustrates where criminal negligence could be found. The second part demonstrates where criminal negligence could be absent.

  1. Where Criminal Negligence Is Present

The court could consider your act criminal negligence if you did one of the following:

  1. Leaving your two-year-old child alone in a car on a hot day while running a quick errand. Due to the hot weather, the child suffers heat stroke and requires emergency medical attention.
  2. You are a parent and choose to drive after drinking at a party, then misjudge a turn and crash the car while your child is in the backseat. The child sustains minor injuries.
  3. You are a parent with a history of substance abuse who regularly leaves drugs and paraphernalia within easy reach of their young child.
  4. As a parent, you allow your toddler to play near a swimming pool without a fence or proper adult supervision, and the child falls in and drowns.

     A. Where Criminal Negligence Is Absent

It is not considered criminal negligence if your act was due to ordinary inattention, carelessness, or a mistake in judgment. Examples include:

  1. A child breaks out in a rash after trying a new food. The parent provides basic care and monitoring, and the rash subsides. It was later discovered that the child had a mild food allergy.
  2. A parent briefly steps away to answer a phone call while their child is in the bathtub. Although the child slips and bumps their head, the injury is minor.

What Is The Legal Definition Of "Great Bodily Injury" Under California Law?

California law defines great bodily injury (GBI) as a significant or substantial physical injury that is more serious than minor, trivial, or moderate harm.

Since prosecutors aim to have child endangerment suspects jailed, the judges decide GBI's existence on a case-by-case basis.

The court zeros in on whether you placed your child in a situation where they could likely suffer physical harm, not whether an actual injury occurred. However, the prosecution is likely to charge you with felony child endangerment if your child sustains a severe physical injury.

Punishment and Penalties for a 273a PC Violation

California Penal Code 273a is a "wobbler" offense, meaning the prosecutor can file charges as either a misdemeanor or a felony. The severity of the penalties will depend on whether your actions created a risk of "great bodily harm" or death to the child.

Also, the prosecution's decision on the charge to prefer against you could be informed by the following:

  • Your criminal history
  • Circumstances surrounding the allegations

Misdemeanor Penalties

If the child endangerment is classified as a misdemeanor, the potential penalties include:

  • Up to 6 months in county jail
  • A fine of up to $1,000
  • Misdemeanor Probation. Misdemeanor or informal probation is an option for sentencing in California for PC 273a if the child is not likely to suffer great bodily injury or death. Also known as summary probation, informal probation can last a minimum of four years and may include a protective order, child abuser treatment counseling, and substance abuse treatment, if applicable. Additional conditions of informal probation, include:
  • A court order designed to protect the alleged victim. This may involve restrictions on contacting the child or being near their residence, regardless of whether it's your home.
  • Mandatory completion of a court-approved treatment program for child abusers, with a minimum duration of one year.
  • If the offense occurred while you were under the influence of drugs or alcohol, additional probation terms may apply. These could include an order of abstinence and potential random drug testing.

Expunging, Waiving, Or Terminating The Condition Of Probation

The court can waive specific probation conditions if it determines that doing so aligns with the best interests of justice.

Also, if you demonstrate full compliance with the terms of your probation for a significant period, often the first one or two years, the court may consider granting early termination. Upon completing probation, you may be eligible to request an expungement of your California criminal record.

A judge may reject an expungement petition if:

  1. You have violated probation or
  2. You failed to fulfill all the conditions as required.

Felony Penalties

If the child endangerment is classified as a felony, the potential penalties are significantly harsher:

  • 2, 4, or 6 years in state prison
  • A fine of up to $10,000
  • Felony probation. The judge may impose a formal or felony probation sentence with a minimum duration of four years. The terms and conditions of this probation are similar to those outlined in misdemeanor probation.

Note that even with a felony probation sentence, you may still be eligible to apply for an expungement of the conviction upon successful completion of probation.

A felony conviction may also lead to the loss of certain civil rights, including the right to own firearms, difficulty securing future employment, challenges finding housing, and long-term social stigma.

Additional Consequences Upon a Conviction

Great Bodily Injury Enhancement

California law includes sentencing enhancements for crimes that result in "great bodily injury" (GBI) to a victim. In a child endangerment case, if the court determines that your actions caused GBI to the child, it could significantly enhance your penalties.

A great bodily injury enhancement under Penal Code 12022.7 adds more years to your prison sentence, imposed consecutively. You serve an extra prison-term after completing the initial sentence for the underlying crime.

  • The court could add an extra 3 to 6 years in prison if you caused severe physical harm to the child.
  • You could also receive a sentence enhancement of an additional four years in a county prison.

Manslaughter or Murder Penalties

In the event a child dies as a result of endangerment, the court could enhance your sentence to involuntary manslaughter or even murder. These include:

  • Second-degree murder punishable under California PC 187
  • Voluntary manslaughter punishable under California PC 192 (a)
  • Involuntary manslaughter punishable under California PC 192 (b)

Child Endangerment and California’s "Three Strikes" Law

California "Three Strikes" law mandates harsher sentencing if you have prior convictions for certain violent felonies. A felony conviction under PC 273a is considered a "strike" if your actions resulted in a great bodily injury on the child.

If you are subsequently convicted of any other felony, you are considered a "second striker." Often, your sentence will be doubled.

A third felony conviction, even for a relatively minor offense, can result in a life sentence with a minimum of 25 years before the possibility of parole.

How The Criminal Case Affects Child Custody

Child endangerment charges may trigger a Child Protective Services (CPS) investigation. Based on their findings, a family court judge could limit, reduce, or even terminate your parental rights.

Unlike criminal courts, which require proof "beyond a reasonable doubt," family courts base their custody decisions on the "best interests of the child" standard. This means a judge could restrict custody or visitation even if you are acquitted of the criminal charges, or they are reduced to a less serious offense.

The family court will scrutinize various aspects of your case, including the nature of the allegations, the evidence presented in the criminal case, and the potential risk to the child's safety and well-being. Depending on the circumstances, a protective order may be issued limiting or preventing contact with your child during or after the pendency of the criminal case.

Even if you maintain partial custody rights, a child endangerment conviction will likely affect ongoing parenting time and decision-making authority regarding the child.

Immigration consequences

As an immigrant facing criminal charges, especially those involving child endangerment, you need to be aware of the potentially devastating immigration consequences.

A conviction for child endangerment can be considered a crime involving moral turpitude and an aggravated felony. These categories of offenses are deportable offenses. This means you could be removed from the United States, even with legal residency, such as a green card.

If you are a non-citizen facing child endangerment charges, you should speak with a skilled criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

There might be ways to mitigate these consequences, but strategic and well-informed legal representation can help change your charge to a non-deportable offense or drop it.

Fighting Child Endangerment Charges in Court

Facing child endangerment charges is a serious matter. However, with a criminal attorney, you could build a strong defense strategy to have your charges dismissed or dropped. These include:

The Act Was Not Willful Or Did Not Amount To Criminal Negligence

Under PC 273a, the crucial elements are the "willfulness" of your action and the potential for substantial harm to the child. The court could dismiss your charges if you can demonstrate that you lacked intent and an absence of reckless disregard for the child's well-being.

For example, Jane places a machete on a table in her dining lounge and enters the kitchen to fetch water. While in the kitchen, her son picks up the machete and cuts his toes. In this case, the court cannot find Jane liable because she was not criminally negligent. This is because criminal negligence requires more than mere inattentiveness.

Your attorney could seek a medical expert to testify that your child's injuries were due to an accident rather than intent.

You Were Reasonably Disciplining Your Child

California law does not explicitly prohibit corporal punishment. However, it distinguishes between reasonable discipline for correction and actions causing excessive harm. In California, you can discipline your child through "reasonable" spanking.

Spanking is the physical punishment inflicted on someone's body, for example:

  • Confining your child in a room
  • Making your child go to bed hungry
  • Caning your child using a paddle or belt

This defense rests on whether your actions were proportional to the offense with the intent to correct, not cause unjustified pain.

For example, Jane's 7-year-old daughter throws tantrums in the school uniform shop when shopping for new clothes. Jane spanks her daughter on the thighs, and she cries out loudly. In this case, Jane cannot face child endangerment charges because she was reasonably disciplining her daughter.

False Accusations

Child endangerment charges are taken seriously by law enforcement and the courts. However, sometimes, accusations are made falsely. This can occur during acrimonious divorces and custody disputes, as a form of retaliation, or due to misinterpretation of an accidental event. False accusations devastate families and damage reputations.

Your defense attorney can comb social media accounts, criminal records, and employment records of other suspects and the child to find "exculpatory" evidence.

"Mistake of Fact"

The mandatory reporting law in California requires professionals like the clergy, teachers, and doctors to alert the authorities of child endangerment suspicions. Failure to report a potential child endangerment case could result in the professionals facing misdemeanor charges.

These professionals are constantly under pressure; hence, they misinterpret situations and accuse

You could be accused of child endangerment due to a "mistake of fact." This means they honestly believed something about the situation that was not true, and this belief significantly influenced their actions. Notably, the mistake also needs to be one that a reasonable person could have made under the circumstances.

For example, Keter takes his daughter to the hospital after she falls from a swing. The physician suspects that someone might have hurt Keter's daughter, so they alert the social services. After the authorities arrest Keter, they charge him with child endangerment and abuse. Keter seeks legal counsel, where the lawyer looks for witnesses who saw Keter's daughter fall off the swing.

Someone Else Endangered The Child

Parents and primary caregivers bear the responsibility for a child's safety. However, there are situations where harm is caused by someone else. Also, the police and prosecutors are quick to hold parents liable when a child is in danger.

If you are charged with child endangerment but there is evidence that another person was the perpetrator, a strong defense becomes possible.

Going back to the previous example, Keter's daughter tells her father, Keter, that she sustained injuries when she fell off the swing. Keter takes her to a physician, who suspects that a fist caused the child's injuries. Upon Keter's arrest, his defense attorney discovered that the child experienced bullying at school, and a bully hit her on her way home. The lawyer then shows this proof in court, and the judge drops Keter's charges.

You Had No Responsibility Over The Child

California child endangerment law requires the accused to be responsible for the child's well-being. This could be a parent, guardian, teacher, babysitter, or someone who has explicitly agreed to care for the child.

If you are accused of endangerment but do not have this type of established relationship with the child, this defense could help you fight the allegation against you.

For example, Hellen is Milka's nanny. During Hellen's sick leave, Milka is involved in a slip-and-fall accident in the house, resulting in a broken arm. Milka's parents accuse Hellen, who later faces arrest. The court dropped child engagement charges against Hellen after her lawyer showed that Milka sustained injuries under her parent's watch, not Hellen's.

In child endangerment cases, the critical factors are:

  • Your relationship with the child,
  • The timing of the incident,

So, if your defense lawyer can demonstrate without a reasonable doubt that you did not have any legal obligations to take care of the child when they sustained injuries, the judge will likely drop the charges against you.

Find a Criminal Attorney Near Me

California child endangerment laws are harsh, and upon conviction, you could face serious penalties. You could go to prison for placing your child in an environment that results in harm or death for them.

At times, you could be falsely accused of child endangerment or your case is a mistake of fact. For example, when your child is avenging for reasonably disciplining them or when your child’s doctor is under pressure from the child services to report a possible endangerment chase and they falsely accuse you.

You can prove your innocence with a defense lawyer's help. Your criminal lawyer can gather evidence, witnesses, and documents that could help have your child's endangerment charges dropped if not dismissed. If you or a loved one is facing charges for a PC 273a violation, you should contact your defense attorney to review your case and help build solid defenses.

At the Monterey Criminal Attorney, we vigorously defend clients facing child endangerment charges in Monterey. Call our law firm today at 831-574-1791 to speak with a skilled criminal lawyer.