The law prohibits an adult from exposing a child to danger, suffering, or pain knowingly. If a person is accused of exposing a minor to danger, they will be in violation of PEN 273a that makes it a criminal offense. Child endangerment and child abuse laws are distinct, although many people may confuse them. In child abuse, the law punishes a person that actually harms a child while child endangerment, it is the act of exposing a child to a danger, that is punishable. Allegations on child endangerment can be brought against any person. Depending on the motive, they can be malicious or without facts. If accused of this offense, a conviction can result in severe consequences and penalties. You need to hire a criminal attorney to help you fight these allegations. At The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm, we are experienced in defending our clients and ensuring a favorable outcome.
Defining Child Endangerment According to the Law
The law expects the prosecution to prove particular elements in child endangerment offense if they are to get a conviction against them. For each element, the prosecutor must prove it beyond doubt. The prosecutor instituting child endangerment charges must prove the following elements of the crime:
- The defendant was responsible for doing at least one of the below elements:
- Intentionally made or allowed the minor suffer unjustifiable mental and physical pain
- Intentionally inflicted pain to a minor both physically and mentally
- While the child was in their custody, they willingly allowed the health or the child to be harmed
- While having the custody of the minor, they intentionally caused or allowed the minor to be in a circumstance that was dangerous to the child or their health
- The accused was negligent when they allowed or caused the minor to suffer or be placed in a perilous situation that may or resulted in injuries.
- If the child belonged to the defendant, they were not punishing the child within reason.
Additional Element for Proving Child Endangerment
When a defendant is charged with PEN 273a violations, the prosecutor is required to prove another one element.
In order to charge the violation as a wobbler offense, the prosecutor is required to prove the defendant put the child in circumstances that would have resulted in death or great bodily harm. This means that the prosecutor does not need to prove that their actions resulted in the death or harm, but it was a probable outcome.
In order to understand the charges of child endangerment offense, it is important to understand various terms as used in PEN 273a and their meaning.
An act done willfully is an act that was intentionally carried out. This doesn't necessarily mean the defendant had an intention to violate the law nor inflict harm. However, it means that the act was intentional by the defendant and may have led to an injury.
For instance, a mother has to work and has a regular person that takes care of their child while they are at work. She begins to notice their child has various injuries every time he is left with the nanny. However, because she needs to work, she disregards the signs and keeps leaving her son with the nanny. One time while away, the nanny shakes the child so hard that he dies. The nanny will be charged with PEN 273ab(a), of assaulting a minor and causing their death. On the other hand, the mother of the child will be charged with child endangerment because she exposed her child to a dangerous situation.
Unjustifiable Mental and Physical Pain
The law defines pain and suffering of a minor that is unjustifiable as:
- Unreasonably necessary pain
- Excessive suffering or pain under the particular circumstances
When a person is accused of criminal negligence in this case, it is defined as more than a normal level of carelessness. A person is found to have acted with this kind of negligence if they:
- Recklessly act in a manner that is different from how an ordinarily mindful person would react to a situation
- The actions of the person are an indication of disregard to life or of the repercussions of their actions
- Reasonably knew that their actions would probably result in harming others
Simply put, the behavior of an individual is what equates to the negligence of criminal nature. The behavior needs to be gross, aggravated, and reckless going beyond the norm. This is usually tested against what a normal person under similar circumstances would do.
When a person behaves in a manner out of typical carelessness, lack of mindfulness, or an error in judgment, such a person cannot be accused of criminal negligence.
Great Bodily Harm
Under California law, great bodily injury is described as significant injuries to one’s body. Small or moderate injuries are not considered as great injuries to the body.
During a trial, the jury determines if there is a great bodily injury to an individual or a minor. This determination is on an offense by offense basis. Due to this fact, some prosecutors will bring these allegations periodically. However, it is essential to remember in a child endangerment case, and the important element is if the minor was left in a dangerous situation that could result in injuries.
However, if the situation the child is placed in results in significant bodily harm, the prosecution may institute felony charges against the defendant.
Penalties for Child Endangerment PEN 273a
The penalties and sentencing of child endangerment PEN 273a vary. How a judge sentences a person accused of this offense depends on the risk the actions of the defendant exposed. If the defendant’s actions exposed a minor to death or significant bodily harm, the penalties are more severe.
When the behavior of the defendant did not expose the minor to the risk of death or great bodily harm, violations of PEN 273 are prosecuted as misdemeanor offenses. If a person is convicted of the offense on misdemeanor charges, they face the following penalties:
- A county jail sentence of not more than six months
- Payment of a cash fine of not more than $1,000.
A judge can decide to sentence a defendant convicted of PEN 273a violations to a misdemeanor or informal probation. Under the laws on child endangerment, a person convicted of this offense cannot get less than four years of summary probation. In most cases, these kinds of probation will include the following details:
- A restraining order to protect the minor from additional violent acts. The restraining order may have a provision to stay away. This provision prevents the accused from having any form of contact or communication with the minor. Even when the minor lives in the same residence with the defendant, the stay away may also apply.
- The defendant is required to complete a counseling program on child abuse that is approved by the court. The counseling program must last for one year at the minimum.
- The probation can include additional conditions in case the accused was intoxicated by drugs or alcohol when they committed the crime. These conditions will include:
- The defendant must stay away from alcohol or drugs for as long as the probation period is running
- The court may order the defendant to undergo random drug tests
Waving, Terminating or Expunging Probation Conditions
If anyone of the above-discussed conditions is unfavorable to the wellbeing of a child, the court can opt to waive it. In some cases, the court can offer an earlier termination of probation when the accused complies with every condition and terms indicated within the initial one or two years.
When a defendant receives probation, it is possible to expunge a criminal record of the same. This is only possible once the defendant has completed the period of probation successfully. However, a judge can choose to deny an expungement petition if:
- The defendant or petitioner violated the probation
- The petitioner or defendant failed in adhering to the conditions and terms of the probation.
Charges on child endangerment become wobbler offenses a risk to cause significant bodily injury or fatality of a child existed. The prosecutor makes the decision to charge the offense as a felony or a misdemeanor based on:
- The criminal history of the defendant
- The actual circumstances of the offense.
When a person receives a felony conviction in child endangerment, the penalties may include:
- Facing state imprisonment of two or four or six years or/and
- Paying cash fine not exceeding $10,000
Alternatively, the judge may opt to sentence the accused to formal probation lasting for not less than four years. Upon completion of the probation, the defendant can apply to have their record expunged.
Sentence Enhancement Due to Great Bodily Injury
On top of the above-discussed penalties for a felony conviction, some situations may cause a defendant to receive sentence enhancement. If the minor is severely injured due to the criminal negligence of the defendant, a sentence enhancement automatically happens.
An enhancement, in this case, will mean having additional as well as consecutive terms in the state prison. Some of the situations that will call for sentence enhancement are:
- When the defendant did indeed inflict significant bodily injuries to the minor directly. This will call for extra as well as consecutive three to six years imprisonment. The enhancement, in this case, is based on the type of injuries inflicted and the age of the minor.
- During the offense, a child may die due to the criminal negligence of the defendant. When this happens, the defendant will receive four years of consecutive and additional prison sentence.
Murder or Manslaughter Penalties
In some cases, a child may die due to endangerment. When this happens, the prosecutor may decide to institute more severe charges against the defendant. Some of these charges are:
- Involuntary manslaughter charges PEN 192(b)
- Voluntary manslaughter charges PEN 192(a) or
- Murder in the Second degree charges PEN 18.
The Law of Three Strikes and Child Endangerment
A felony conviction on child endangerment is a strike according to the law of three strikes in California. When a child suffered from significant bodily harm, it automatically becomes a strike.
Any person that has a criminal record with a strike and is later charged with another felony will automatically be considered as a second-time striker. This will mean that the sentence they receive will be two times more severe than what they would have received under normal circumstances.
If the accused gets a third strike on their record, they automatically serve a minimum of 25 years to a life sentence in state prison.
Possible Legal Defenses
Child endangerment charges are serious ones and can lead to severe penalties. Hiring a criminal defense attorney is essential if you want to fight these charges and reduce the risk of severe punishment.
Various defense strategies can be applied by your lawyer to fight these allegations. Some of these defenses may include failure by law enforcement officers to follow the seizure and search laws. Your lawyer can also look into the possibility of any other misconduct by the police.
Some defenses are uniquely applicable to child endangerment, neglect, or abuse cases. These defenses will require a defendant taking any of the positions described below:
The Defendant did not Act willingly or with Criminal Negligence
For a person to be convicted of violating PEN 273a, the prosecution should prove the accused acted with negligence that is criminal and willingly carried out the act. This must be proven beyond any doubt to get a conviction.
With an experienced attorney, there are several ways that he or she can establish reasonable doubt that can lead to an acquittal of the defendant. For instance, your criminal defense lawyer may argue that the injury sustained resulted from ordinary negligence or an accident. If the jury or judge is convinced of this, the defendant cannot be found guilty of violating PEN 273a.
The Accused was Disciplining Their Child Within Reason
There is no law prohibiting a parent from disciplining their child as long as the discipline measures taken are reasonable. This means that a parent is allowed to instill corporal punishment against their child as long as it is reasonable. There are various ways a parent can use corporal punishment against their child. Some of these include:
- Using a paddle or a belt to discipline a child
- Spanking a child
- Forcing your child to sleep without dinner
- Secluding a minor to their room.
With an experienced lawyer, he or she can use this defense by convincing the jury or judge that the accused was within his or her right to discipline their child. Additionally, the act was within reason.
A lot of child endangerment allegations are based on falsehoods. Other times, a child may be manipulated by one parent to make false accusations against the other parent. Sometimes a child can be angry at a parent and wants to get them punished. This is a common occurrence when parents are divorcing or when another partner to the parent is introduced.
Sometimes, a person charged with taking care of the child may make false allegations to cover their own abuse against the child. Regardless of the cause of the allegations, an arrest will have to be made. No law enforcement officer will ignore the possibility that a child could be in danger.
Fighting False Allegations
If a lawyer has a client who is facing allegations of child endangerment, he or she will begin by reviewing every evidence presented to prove their client’s innocence. This may involve carrying out interviews with possible witnesses to the crime. The lawyer may also talk with other persons that are well known to the client. This is necessary to establish their credibility as a caregiver or parent.
Based on the accusations, a lawyer may decide to pull any criminal, employment, or school records of other people that may be potential suspects to the offense. Your lawyer may go further to evaluate the social media presence of the minor and of any other person that may be a suspect. A lawyer in an effort to fight for their client will not leave any stone unturned.
Mistake of Fact
A person may report a case of child endangerment not out of malice but with good intentions after misinterpreting the situation. This kind of accusation is referred to as a mistake of fact. The law enhances the problem of mistaken fact on mandatory reporting in California. This law makes it illegal for certain professionals not to report possible cases of child endangerment. Such professions include the clergy, teachers, or doctors.
If these professionals fail to report, they risk being prosecuted with a misdemeanor offense. The consequences for the charges may even be jail time. Because of this, they are constantly under immense pressure to report any probabilities of minor endangerment no matter how slight.
When Someone Else Endangers the Child
Police officers and prosecutors can be overzealous in some cases and want to make sure a person is held accountable if a child is in danger. Frequently, they make assumptions about the party responsible. For instance, a child may come home with cuts and bruises and lies to their parents that they fell off their bike and got injured. When the parents take their child to the hospital, the doctor is suspicious of the injuries because of their nature and informs the police of possible child endangerment.
The police may arrest the parents without taking the time to establish the facts. Once the parents hire a lawyer, he may carry out his own investigations and discovered that the child was bullied in school. The injuries the child sustained were inflicted by someone else and not by the parents. When this is established, the allegations against the parents are dropped. Without a lawyer that is able to dig into the case, the parents may find themselves wrongfully convicted of the crime.
Offenses Related to Child Endangerment
Various domestic violence offenses have identical elements as those of child endangerment. Some of these offenses can be charged alongside or instead of child endangerment offenses. Some common offenses related to PEN 273a violations are:
Child Abuse PEN 273d
According to the laws on child abuse, it is a criminal offense to abuse a minor physically. When a person is accused of this crime, evidence of great bodily harm is not necessary for a conviction. However, there needs to be some injuries on the body of the child to trigger the accusations.
Child abuse offense is a wobbler offense. When the defendant is convicted of a misdemeanor, they can be jailed in a county jail for not more than a year. Additionally, they may be required to pay a cash fine of not more than $6,000 or either.
When a person is charged as a felony, the penalties are stiffer. A defendant risks state imprisonment of two or four or six years. Additionally, they may be required to pay a fine of not more than $6,000, or either.
Child Neglect PEN 270
This is a less severe offense in the state of California. A parent or primary caregiver can be accused of the offense if they fail in providing physical needs to their child. Needs, in this case, means providing basic needs to the child, such as shelter, food, clothing, or health care. However, a parent who is unable to afford these necessities, not by their own fault, cannot be found guilty of the offense.
However, if a parent or primary caregiver is found guilty of violating PEN 270, a misdemeanor conviction will lead to a year jail time. Additionally, the parent or caregiver will be required to pay a cash fine of $2,000 or either. In extreme instances, the defendant can be sentenced to one year and an extra day in state prison.
Lewd Acts with a Child PEN 288
The law makes it an offense to touch a minor in an improper manner for sexual gratification.
A person can be charged with this offense if:
- The minor is below 14 years of age
- The minor is between 14 and 15 years, with the defendant being older than the minor by ten years.
Penalties for this offense are severe and are based on various aspects:
- The age difference between the minor and the defendant
- The legal age of the minor
- If the child was under the care of the defendant.
A conviction of this offense can lead to several years of state imprisonment in addition to a fine not exceeding $10,000.
A conviction on child endangerment can lead to severe penalties. Sometimes a person can be falsely accused of this crime and without proper legal representation, will get convicted. Your life and that of your loved ones can get affected due to these allegations. When one is facing child endangerment allegations, their best option is to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney to fight against the charges. At The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm, we have a team of experienced attorneys ready to walk with you as you fight these allegations. Call us today at 310-935-1675 for an appointment and a discussion of your case.