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Child Endangerment

Penal Code 273a PC - Child Endangerment

Child endangerment is defined under California Penal Code 273a PC as willfully exposing a child to unjustifiable pain, suffering, or danger. Suppose you subject a child to an unreasonable risk of harm, even without physical injuries. In that case, you could face criminal charges under this law. 

PC 273a child endangerment cases are often connected to domestic violence because they can endanger a child's safety. Other common examples include parents neglecting their child's basic needs for an extended period and placing their child in a dangerous position, such as within reach of a gun or drugs.

California Penal Code 273a PC Child Endangerment

Another example of child endangerment is leaving your child in a car or hot vehicle with all the windows up. For example, suppose you consume a bunch of alcoholic drinks at a party, and you get in the car with your child and are involved in an accident, causing injuries to your child. In that case, you will likely be charged with child endangerment.

As noted, endangering a child does not have to result in physical harm but instead places them in a potentially dangerous situation where they could be harmed.

Child endangerment is a “wobbler” that can be filed as either a misdemeanor or felony. For example, suppose your behavior placed the child at great risk of suffering bodily harm. In that case, it will usually be charged as a felony.

PC 273a says, "(a) Any person who, under circumstances or conditions likely to produce great bodily harm or death, willfully causes or permits any child to suffer, or inflicts thereon unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering, or having the care or custody of any child, willfully causes or permits the person or health of that child to be injured, or willfully causes or permits that child to be placed in a situation where his or her person or health is endangered, shall be punished...." 

If that's you, you need to get a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer to do damage control on your case. But first, let's review this state law further below. 

What Factors Must Be Proven for a PC 273a Conviction?  

To secure a conviction for child endangerment, a prosecutor must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt at least one of the factors listed below: These “elements of the crime” and listed under CALCRIM 821 Jury Instructions as follows:

  • Defendant willfully inflicted unjustifiable pain or mental suffering on a child, or;
  • Defendant willfully caused or permitted a child to suffer unjustifiable pain or mental suffering, or;
  • While the defendant had the care of a child, they willfully caused or permitted their health to be injured, or;
  • While the defendant had the care of a child, they willfully caused or permitted them to be put in a situation where their health was endangered;
  • Defendant was negligent when they caused the child to suffer or be endangered.

Notably, if you are the child's parent, it must be shown you were not reasonably disciplining your child. Sometimes, a referral to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCSF) will be made to investigate.

What are the Related Crimes?

What are the Penalties for PC 273a? 

The penalties will depend on the case details if you are convicted of violating Penal Code 273a child endangerment. For example, suppose the case involved the risk of great bodily harm or death. Then, a “wobbler” can be charged with either a misdemeanor or felony offense.

If convicted of a misdemeanor child endangerment case, it's punishable by the following:

  • up to six months in the county jail;
  • a fine of up to $1,000;
  • summary probation.

If convicted of a felony child endangerment case, it's punishable by the following:

  • two, four, or six years in state prison;
  • a fine up to $10,000;
  • formal probation;
  • a ‘strike” under California's three strikes law.

Sentencing enhancement 

Suppose the child was seriously harmed. In that case, they could face a California Penal Code 12022.7 PC great bodily injury (GBI) enhancement as follows: 

  • If you personally inflicted a great bodily injury on the child, then your sentence could include an additional three to six years in prison;
  • If you were negligent in causing the child's death, you could face an additional and consecutive four years in prison.

What are the Defenses for PC 273a? 

Suppose you are accused of child endangerment defined under Penal Code 273a PC. In that case, our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys can use different strategies to obtain the best possible outcome. Some defense arguments could include the following: 

  • reasonable discipline of the child;
  • it was not a willful act;
  • the act was not criminally negligent;
  • false accusation. 

Perhaps we can argue you were acting within your legal rights to discipline your child reasonably. Maybe we can show that the punishment was warranted and not excessive.

Recall from the elements of the crime that a prosecutor must be able to prove your act was “willful” or criminally negligent. Maybe we can show evidence that the child's injuries were caused by accident or due to ordinary negligence, which doesn't rise to criminal negligence.

Defenses for Penal Code 273a PC Child Endangerment

Maybe we could argue you had a temporary lapse in attending to your child but never intended to place them in a dangerous situation.

Early intervention into your case by our law firm could dramatically impact the outcome. For example, through prefiling intervention, perhaps we can negotiate with the prosecutor to avoid the formal filing of criminal charges in the first place, called a "DA reject." 

The type of things you can do is to show the good things that you've done in your life, and specifically towards your child, and the things that you provided to them, and to show that whatever happened, in this case, is an aberration that's never going to happen again.

If we can get character letters from friends and family that know you that are saying good things about you, f we can get your child on board that they want to still be with you and that they trust you and love you and they want to move forward and have a happy life with you. We offer a free case evaluation by phone or through the contact form. The Hedding Law Firm is based in Los Angeles, CA.