The state of California's Penal Code 273(a) punishes individuals who endanger their children. Child endangerment is widely thought of as a crime that falls under the umbrella of “domestic violence”. When a person puts a child into a dangerous situation or allows a child to be put into such a dangerous situation without taking steps to protect him, he will be charged with the crime of child endangerment.
Similar to the state's Penal Code for Corporate Injury (273.5) and Aggravated Battery (243(d)), child endangerment is considered to be what people in the legal world refer to as a “wobbler”. Wobbler style crimes can be filed as either felonies or as misdemeanors. Prosecutors consider several factors when deciding which type to choose. Top considerations usually include the defendant's criminal history and the specific nature of the alleged offense.
PC 273(a) Child Endangerment – Elements Of The Crime
In order to convict a defendant of PC 273(a), a prosecutor must prove that the individual in question “willfully caused or permitted” the child (someone 17 years old or younger) to experience physical pain and / or mental suffering. Or, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant “willfully caused or permitted” the child to be put into a situation where he endured physical pain and / or mental suffering.
Defining "Willfully Caused Or Permitted"
The word "willful" means that a person intentionally acted on purpose. This means that the person in question meant to cause physical harm and / or mental suffering. It can also mean that the defendant intentionally placed the child in a position where he would be harmed. However, in regard to placing the child in a position where someone else inflicts the actual harm, the prosecution does not actually have to prove that the defendant intended for the child to be harmed. He only has to prove that the defendant acted in a criminally negligent manner by putting the child in such a position.
Defining Criminal Negligence
In the state of California, criminal negligence is considered to be extreme and reckless behavior that conflicts with common sense. It is the court's responsibility to determine if a reasonable individual put in a similar situation would have behaved in a similar manner. The court will also consider if the defendant acted in a way that illustrates a complete disregard for the well-being, safety and health of the child. Criminal negligence also requires that the defendant's actions created dangerous results that he could have foreseen with ease but disregarded and acted anyway.
It helps to look at an example to fully understand criminally negligent behavior. Let's say that you have separated from your husband or wife and know that he has harmed your child several times in the past. You proceed to leave your child with your estranged spouse and he once again beats your child. Your child suffers a broken leg, a black eye and numerous bruises. It is up to the prosecution to prove that you knew about your spouse's child abuse in the past and you still left your child with him, you acted in a criminally negligent manner and can be convicted of child endangerment.
It is worth noting that there have been similar cases in the past where the defendant had no knowledge that the spouse was abusing the couple's child and left him with the spouse only to find the child beaten and the accompanying challenge of child endangerment charges. If you find yourself in such a position, reach out to a Domestic Violence attorney with the Law Offices of Jeff Voll. We will fight a conviction of child endangerment by proving to the court that a reasonable person in your position would not have known about the person's history abuse and made a similar decision. We've successfully defeated child endangerment charges for several defendants who were arrested for a DUI while their children were in the car with them.
Spanking Children And Child Endangerment
Those who spank their children can't be convicted of child endangerment. Courts do not view spanking with the hand or the use of another reasonable way of disciplining a child to constitute the physical pain and / or mental anguish that is necessary to prove child endangerment. Also, individuals can't be convicted of child endangerment if they put their children in timeout or take away their toys or privileges.
In order for your actions to cause what the court considers to be physical pain and / or mental suffering, they will have to be extreme in nature and unjustifiable. While you are allowed to spank your child with your open hand you should think twice before using a belt or another object. You can be convicted of 273(a) Child Endangerment if prosecutors can prove that your behaviors were unjustifiable and that you used an unnecessarily extreme use of force. Oftentimes, courts view the use of a belt or other object to discipline a child as extreme and unjustifiable.
How The Law Offices Of Jeff Voll Will Help You Fight Your Child Endangerment Charge
Our savvy domestic violence attorneys have years of experience defending clients against child endangerment charges. We've developed numerous defenses that we adjust to the idiosyncrasies of each case. Let's take a look at some of the most successful defense strategies that we've used in the past.
Oftentimes, we argue that a client's act was not actually “willful”. Those who do not act intentionally or purposefully can't be found guilty of child endangerment. If your child was harmed by accident, we'll put the work in to gather all of the pertinent information and prove your innocence. Sometimes other dynamics come into play as well. Perhaps you left your child with a trusted babysitter who handed him off to your abusive ex-husband who she naively trusted. In these situations, our clients did not act willfully to harm their children or put them in harm's way.
In other instances, defendants are falsely accused of child endangerment. Sometimes divorces, separations and other domestic disputes can spur someone to falsely accuse another person out of a thirst for revenge or sheer anger. We have domestic violence attorneys who've successful proven that our clients were charged with false accusations. We go the extra mile to investigate the nuances of each client's unique situation and show the court that the child endangerment accusations are not legitimate.
We've also successfully argued that parents used a reasonable and justifiable means of discipline when attempting to correct child behavior. Consider the open handed spanking example used above. Parents have every right to discipline children who misbehave. This includes the use of corporal punishment as well as open handed spanking. If you believe that your disciplinary actions were reasonable, there is a good chance that a domestic violence attorney from our office will be able to prove your argument to the court and have your child endangerment charges dropped.
Penalties For 273(a) Child Endangerment
As described above, 273(a) Child Endangerment is considered to be a “wobbler”. You can face a series of punishments depending on whether the prosecution chooses to charge you with a felony or a misdemeanor. Those who are convicted of the misdemeanor 273(a) will face penalties that may include up to $1,000 in fines, up to a full year in county jail, the completion of a one year Child Abuser's Treatment Program and informal / summary style probation for at least 4 years. You may also be barred from contact with the child with a protective order or a stay away order that is meant to prevent the child from enduring future harm.
Those who are convicted of felony child endangerment can face the terms of the misdemeanor conviction described above as well as either 2, 4 or 6 years in California State Prison, formal probation for at least 4 years and upwards of $10,000 in fines. Another sentence that lasts between 3 and 6 years in state prison is also possible if the child suffered a great bodily injury. Finally, those convicted of a felony child endangerment can receive a strike on their records according to California's Three Strikes law.
Can A Conviction Impact My Right To Own A Gun?
Unfortunately, a conviction can affect your right to own a gun. Those who are convicted of child endangerment might be barred from owning, holding, buying or receiving a gun for up to 10 years. Those who are convicted of a felony might even be prohibited from owning a firearm for life.
The Law Offices Of Jeff Voll Is Here For You
If you have been charged with child endangerment, don't sit tight and hope that things work out. Be proactive and contact the Law Offices of Jeff Voll right away. We can be reached at (323) 467-6400. Give us a call today and we will schedule a free consultation. You'll be able to meet with one of our domestic violence attorneys to discuss the details of your case, develop defense strategies and navigate the legal process.