California Child Endangerment Cases: Legal Definition

Child endangerment is a legal term that refers to putting a child in a dangerous or harmful situation. It can include hurting a child under 18 on purpose, physically or mentally, or letting them get hurt because you didn’t watch them well enough. 

California child endangerment cases require the expert legal defense to help navigate and prevent a conviction. Under California law PC273a, if you are charged with putting a child in danger, you could face jail time and very high fines. The consequences of a conviction in a child endangerment case can affect the rest of your life, making it crucial to hire the right defense attorney to help you avoid charges or reduce penalties. 

Mariya Melkonyan, a criminal defense lawyer, knows how important it is to make sure that people who are accused of endangering children have good legal representation. Mariya Melkonyan’s 13 years of experience as a Deputy District Attorney have taught her how to predict what the prosecution might do and how to stop it. This helps her get a good result and protect her rights at all costs.

California Penal Code 273a outlines the parameters of child endangerment. Prosecutors can bring charges against any adult, especially a caretaker, who causes or lets a child suffer on purpose or through carelessness. It covers actions that inflict unjustifiable pain or suffering on a child. PC 273a also applies when an adult in charge of a child lets that child be hurt, killed, or go through mental pain at the hands of another person.

PC723a differs from PC273d, which discusses child abuse through excessive or inhumane corporal punishment that results in traumatic injury to a child under 18.

Is Child Endangerment a Felony in California?

Child endangerment in California is considered a wobbler offense. This means that prosecutors can decide whether to charge you with a felony or misdemeanor based on the circumstances of your case. They will assess certain factors of the child endangerment incident and then charge you based on the severity of each element. Potential factors include: 

  • Extent of the child’s injuries
  • Length of endangerment
  • Criminal history of the accused
  • Evidence for the case 

For example, if you have a clean criminal record and evidence shows the incident to be out of character, prosecutors may charge you with a misdemeanor. However, if you have multiple criminal charges and a history of negligent behavior, you may face a felony charge. 

Examples of Los Angeles Child Endangerment Laws and Penalties Under PC 273A

A few examples of child endangerment charges are when a child is in danger of getting hurt or dying. These include: 

Failing to Get Medical Treatment 

Child endangerment can occur when a child does not receive medical care for an injury or sickness. Adults may refuse to get emergency care for their children or ignore medical advice for conditions that can be treated. This can cause the child’s condition to get worse or even kill them.

The appellate court in People v. Rippberger upheld a felony child abuse conviction for two parents who only provided prayer treatment for their infant, who died of bacterial meningitis. The criminal negligence sentence was upheld by the appeals court because the parents chose spiritual support over medical care for their baby, even though the baby’s health was getting worse quickly.

Committing Domestic Violence In the Child’s Presence

When an adult commits domestic violence in front of a child, they may face child endangerment charges. In People v. Burton, where a mother was severely beaten in front of her child, a misdemeanor child endangerment conviction was upheld by an appeals court. The court said that the defendant made his child suffer and caused him mental pain, which was unjust. 

The California Law on Child Endangerment 

For a person to be found guilty of endangering a child, the prosecutor must show at least one of these things.

They must establish each factor beyond a reasonable doubt: 

  • Willfully permitting or putting a child through unjustifiable physical pain or psychological suffering
  • Willfully inflicted untenable physical pain or mental suffering on a child
  • Intentionally caused or authorized a child in your care to suffer injuries
  • Purposefully permitted or caused a child to be in a dangerous situation

Defining Willful Action Under California Law

In California, an act is willful when it is done on purpose. To obtain a conviction in a child endangerment case, the prosecution must prove that you purposely injured a child, knowing there was a possibility of suffering. Unjustifiable physical or mental suffering is pain and suffering that was either too much or too little given the situation.

Legal Meaning of Criminal Negligence 

Criminal negligence happens when someone acts with such recklessness, anger, or gross carelessness that it doesn’t look like what a normal person would do. In other words, you did not act as a reasonable person would have in the same circumstances. 

For a prosecutor to prove that an adult committed criminal negligence, the act must include all of the following: 

  • They acted so recklessly that it departed from the actions of a reasonable person in the same scenario
  • The behaviors showed disregard for human life or indifference to their consequences
  • A reasonable adult would have known that their actions would cause harm to others

For example, if a child falls down the stairs and appears grievously injured, a reasonable caregiver would call 911 to get help. It could be considered criminal negligence if the parent waited two hours to call for help or did not call emergency personnel. 

Legal Definition of Great Bodily Injury

California law defines great bodily injury as a substantial physical injury. When it comes to putting a child in danger, “great bodily injury” can include concussions, broken bones, wounds, injuries caused by not getting enough food, or other serious injuries. 

Based on the facts of the case, a jury will decide whether or not a child has been seriously hurt. However, the prosecutor might also charge a felony if a child was in a situation where they were likely to suffer injuries

What is the sentence for endangering a child?

The consequences for child endangerment vary based on how the prosecution charges the accused. The following are potential penalties for misdemeanor and felony child endangerment charges: 

Misdemeanor

If your actions caused injury to a child but did not result in serious bodily harm or death, the prosecution may charge you with a misdemeanor. The penalties include:

  • County imprisonment for up to six months.
  • Fine of up to $1,000.

Felony 

In a child endangerment case charged as a felony, you can face the following punishments: 

  • State prison sentences of two, four, or six years.
  • Fine of up to $10,000.

Murder

The prosecutor may file more serious charges if a child dies due to endangerment. These charges may include: 

  • Involuntary manslaughter can result in a two, three, or four-year prison sentence
  • Voluntary manslaughter with a three, six, or eleven-year imprisonment. 
  • Second-degree murder carries a state imprisonment term of 15 years to life.

Legal Defenses to Child Endangerment Charges 

A skilled defense attorney can help you avoid or reduce charges in a child endangerment case. If charged with child endangerment under PC 273a, your attorney can also develop a strong legal strategy to minimize your sentence. 

California child endangerment defense attorney Mariya Melkonyan can advise you on the best strategy to defend you in court based on the details of your case. She can use one of the following defenses to help you achieve a favorable outcome.

Sudden Emergency 

With a sudden emergency defense, your lawyer can say that you weren’t careless because you acted in a reasonable way during an emergency. The sudden emergency defense asserts that:

  • An accident or emergency occurred that put the child in danger of immediate injury
  • You did not cause the emergency or accident
  • You acted reasonably based on your ability at the time, even if another action may have been safer 

Your attorney can prove these factors with evidence like witness testimony, photos, videos, or expert analysis to prove that you acted reasonably under the circumstances.

The Act Was Not Willful or Criminally Negligent

Child endangerment requires the prosecution to prove that the accused acted recklessly and willingly in order to be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In a case of child endangerment, your defense attorney can raise reasonable doubt by saying that the child got hurt because of ordinary carelessness or an accident.

If the jury or judge concludes that this is true, you may not be found guilty of child endangerment. 

Reasonable Discipline

California courts permit parents to physically discipline their children with reasonable corporal punishment, such as spanking or sending a child to their room with no supper. The lawyer for the defense can use this to show the jury or judge that what you did was fair and within your rights.

False Accusation

Children may accuse you of child endangerment due to anger or influence by an ex-spouse or partner. Your defense attorney can work to overturn charges through a review of your criminal record and employment records. 

They can ask other people in your life for statements that attest to your moral character and ability to be a good parent. They might also be able to talk to experts or do tests to find out if the child was told to lie or make a punishment sound worse than it was. 

Mistake of Fact in California Law

A mistake of fact can occur when people report cases of child endangerment not out of malice but with sincere intentions under California’s mandatory reporting law. It requires clergy, doctors, and teachers to report suspected child endangerment to law enforcement. 

Your defense lawyer might talk to witnesses or use photos or videos that disprove child endangerment to show that the child got hurt in an accident that wasn’t caused by negligence.

Child Endangerment Can Lead to Additional Charges

So, what are the penalties for child endangerment? You could be charged with more California child endangerment crimes than just child endangerment as part of your case. Prosecutors sometimes charge the following offenses instead of, or along with, child endangerment: 

  • An injury must be the trigger for a charge of child abuse under PC 273d. This charge is a wobbler that can result in a misdemeanor or felony, with prison sentences and fines. 
  • PC 288 punishes lewd acts against a minor when a child is under 14 years old. 
  • PC 273ab involves a death of a child under the age of 8 who suffered great bodily harm and resulted in paralysis or death because of child abuse.
  • PC 187 charges murder when a child is killed with malice or the intent to kill. 
  • You may face a charge of involuntary manslaughter with PC 192b. Involuntary manslaughter is when you commit a lawful but dangerous act without due caution that results in the death of a child. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens if you get charged with child endangerment?

In California, if you’re charged with child endangerment, the repercussions depend on your case and the judge’s discretion. Child endangerment can result in fines, jail time, and a criminal record.

How much time do you get for a California child endangerment case?

Child endangerment sentences in California vary on the situation and the judge’s discretion. Child endangerment is a “wobbler” violation in California, meaning it can be a misdemeanor or a felony based on the offense and the defendant’s previous history.

Is child endangerment a strike in California?

Yes, California considers child endangerment a “severe” or “violent” violation, so it counts as a “strike” under the Three Strikes law. This law increases jail sentences for multiple violent or serious crime offenders.

How to get a child endangerment charge dropped in California?

In California, prosecutors decide whether to drop child endangerment cases. Depending on the circumstances, a child endangerment charge can be dropped.

– Show proof that the child was not, in fact, in danger.
– Come to an agreement with the prosecutor about pleading guilty to a lesser charge.
– Agree to take part in a program like parenting classes or therapy.
– Get help from a California criminal defense lawyer with a lot of experience.

How Can a Child Endangerment Defense Attorney Help You?

If you are accused of putting a child in danger, hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer to help you fight the charges. California child endangerment cases require a good defense attorney who knows how complicated California’s child endangerment laws are and will work on your behalf to get your charges or possible punishments reduced. 

With her experience in both felony and misdemeanor jury trials, Mariya Melkonyan is ready to defend you against charges of endangering a child. She can cross-examine independent expert witnesses and come up with a legal defense to use against the prosecutor in order to get your charges reduced or dropped.

Contact Mariya today for help on child endangerment law california case by calling (424) 901-3131 or completing our online form to schedule a free case evaluation.

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