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Child Endangerment

Penal Code 273a PC - Child Endangerment Law in California

California Penal Code 273(a) PC child endangerment is defined as willfully exposing a child under 18 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 273(a) child endangerment cases are often connected to domestic violence because they can endanger a child's safety. Other common examples include parents neglecting their children for an extended period and placing their children 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 separate crime from Penal Code 273d PC child abuse, which is physically hurting a child, and Penal Code 270 PC child neglect, which is failing to provide necessities.

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 273(a) 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 by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or in the state prison for two, four, or six years.

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” are 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.
  • You were criminally negligent when you caused or permitted the child to suffer and be injured or endangered.
  • Defendant was negligent when they caused the child to suffer or be endangered.

If you are charged with Penal Code 273(a) as a “wobbler,” the prosecutor must prove one additional element of the crime: that you acted under circumstances likely to produce great bodily injury or death. It is not necessary that your actions ultimately caused such harm or death; it is only required that it was a likely outcome.

Child Endangerment

Under California law, an act is done “willfully” if it was done purposefully. Unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering means pain or suffering that is not reasonably necessary or is excessive under the circumstances. A “great bodily injury” is any significant physical injury. 

Criminal negligence involves more than ordinary carelessness, inattention, or a mistake in judgment. It means you act recklessly, a gross departure from how an ordinarily careful person would act in the same situation. Also, your acts amount to disregard for human life or indifference to the consequences of your acts, and a reasonable person would have known that acting in that way would naturally and probably harm others.

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

What are the Related Crimes?

  • Penal Code 270 PC – failure to provide care. This law involves failing to provide physical necessities to your child. PC 270 is charged as a misdemeanor in most cases and carries up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.
  • Penal Code 273d PCchild abuse. This law makes it a wobbler crime to direct physical abuse at a minor.  As a misdemeanor, PC 273d can be punished by Up to 1 year in county jail and a fine of up to $6,000. Penalties for felony child abuse can include two, four, or six years in state prison and a fine of up to $6,000.
  • Penal Code 192(b) PCinvoluntary manslaughter. This law means to unlawfully cause the death of another person by acting with criminal negligence. A conviction is punishable by up to four years in jail or prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
  • Vehicle Code 23152 VC – driving under the influence (DUI). You could be charged with DUI if you drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol with a child in the car. Alternatively, the prosecutor might charge you with only DUI plus a sentencing enhancement for driving with a child under 14, defined under Vehicle Code 23572 VC. 
  • Penal Code 288 PC - lewd acts with a minor. This law involves the improper touching of a minor child. It is charged when someone touches a child for sexual purposes, and the child is under the age of 14. the penalties for lewd acts with a minor depend on various factors. Sentences include several years in state prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

What are the Penalties for PC 273a? 

The penalties will depend on the case details if you are convicted of violating Penal Code 273(a) 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.

Suppose you are convicted of violating this section, and probation is granted. In that case, the court will require the following minimum conditions of probation: a mandatory minimum period of probation of 48 months, a criminal court protective order protecting the victim from further acts of violence or threats, and, if appropriate, residence exclusion or stay-away conditions.

Also, the successful completion of at least one year of a child abuser's treatment counseling program approved by the probation department. The defendant will be ordered to begin participation in the program immediately upon the grant of probation. 

Suppose the offense was committed while the defendant was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In that case, the defendant shall abstain from the use of drugs or alcohol during the probation period and shall be subject to random drug testing by their probation officer.

What are the Defenses for PC 273a? 

Suppose you are accused of child endangerment defined under Penal Code 273(a) PC. In that case, our California 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. 

We can argue you were acting within your legal rights to discipline your child reasonably. We could 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.

Our law firm's early intervention in your case 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 who know you and are saying good things about you, if we can get your child on board that they want to still be with you, that they trust you and love you, and that they want to move forward and have a happy life with you, this could prove crucial to the outcome of the case.

We offer a free case evaluation by phone or through the contact form. The Hedding Law Firm is based in Los Angeles, CA. 

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