If you are involved with children either as a caregiver or a parent, you can easily be charged for child endangerment for not adhereing to Penal Code 273a. Therefore, it is important to understand California criminal laws regarding Child Endangerment. Child Endangerment is a serious crime, especially due to the innocent and vulnerable nature of children. When you or your loved one is facing charges for child endangerment, you can receive severe punishments and penalties. The Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer is here to represent you during criminal hearings and to help you minimize charges, prove your innocence, or avoid a conviction.
Children are the most vulnerable members of the community. Thus, the law takes special note of them, to protect them from exposure to dangerous conditions that can cause great bodily harm or injury. California's child endangerment laws are outlined in PC 273a.
The law also mandates members of society to take part in caring for the welfare of children. This means that a passerby can report you for child endangerment if they feel that your behavior poses a risk to the child. The law also requires some groups such as medical providers and law enforcement officers to report any cases of child endangerment, even suspicion of child endangerment.
The strictness of child endangerment laws sees many innocent adults convicted. To avoid such, or prove your innocence, you need to understand what child endangerment is, its elements, punishments, and penalties.
When you find yourself or a loved one facing child endangerment charges, the first thing is to contact a criminal defense lawyer and refrain from answering any questions or giving information about the situation until your legal representative arrives.
What Is Child Endangerment?
Child endangerment is the crime of exposing a child to danger, pain, or suffering. Child endangerment is not dependent on whether or not the child suffered injury or death. You can be charged with child endangerment even when your actions were unintentional.
You can be charged with child endangerment if you are the caretaker of the child, parent, or guardian, and are an adult.
California laws consider the following actions as child endangerment:
- Willfully allowing a minor to be injured
- Willfully causing or allowing a minor to be in a dangerous situation
- Causing a minor to suffer unjustifiable physical or emotional pain
Some common examples of child endangerment include:
- Leaving dangerous chemicals or weapons where a child can reach them
- Leaving a child with a caregiver who has a history of violence
- Failing to get medical help for a very sick child
- Leaving a child unattended in a hot car
- Committing a crime when a child is with you including domestic violence
- Buying alcohol or drugs for minors
- Leaving a child alone in the house without adult supervision or care
- Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol with a child in the car
- Engaging in sexual activities in the presence of a child
- Leaving a child in a dangerous area such as a construction zone without any adult supervision
Elements of Child Endangerment
When you are charged with child endangerment, the prosecutor has to prove that you willfully caused or allowed the child to face danger, physical pain, or mental suffering.
The law defines "willful" as knowingly exposing the child to danger, situations, or persons likely to cause danger. You may not intentionally want to cause harm to the child, but your actions do not remove the dangerous situation. For example, when you leave your child with a babysitter who has a history of violence, you are exposing the child to the possibility of violence.
The law defines unjustified physical pain or mental suffering as that which is excessive or unnecessary under the circumstances. For example, when your actions are beyond reasonable child discipline, then it becomes endangerment.
The prosecution also needs to prove that you acted with negligence. Negligence occurs when:
- You act in a way that is reckless and departs from common sense
- Your actions are indifferent or in disregard for human life or the consequences of your actions
- The actions are unreasonable under the circumstances, and a reasonable person would have known of the consequences of the action(s)
- When your actions are grossly negligent, it amounts to criminal negligence, which attracts felony charges
What Are The Penalties for Child Endangerment?
Child endangerment can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the circumstances of the case.
- Misdemeanor Child Endangerment
When convicted with a misdemeanor charge, it means that your behavior did not expose the child to great bodily harm. The penalties include:
- A maximum of 6 months in county jail and/or
- A fine of not more than $1,000
- Summary probation of at least four years
- The judge can require additional conditions to be met during the probation period, such as:
- A restraining order to keep the defendant from committing another child endangerment crime
- Attending a court-approved child abuse training program for a year
- An order to abstain from drug and alcohol abuse if the defendants' behavior resulted from alcohol and drug abuse
- The requirement to avail oneself for random drug tests
- Felony Child Endangerment
In some cases, endangerment can be charged as a felony depending on the circumstances of the crime (whether the child suffered or was exposed to great bodily injury or death) and the criminal history of the defendant. Penalties for a felony child endangerment charge include:
- An imprisonment term of 2, 4, or 6 years in state prison and/or
- A fine of not more than $10,000
- Formal probation of not less than 4 years
The terms of probation for a felony conviction are similar to those of informal probation.
The judge could add a sentence enhancement to your felony charges if the child suffered serious harm from your behavior. The sentence enhancements include:
- An additional sentence of three to six years if the defendant inflicted injuries on the child. The nature of the injuries and the age of the child will determine how long the sentence lasts.
- An additional sentence of four years if the child died due to criminal negligence by the defendant
You will be required to serve the additional term immediately after the end of your term. In some instances, the judge may decide to file serious charges of either involuntary manslaughter, voluntary manslaughter or second-degree murder.
Early Termination of Probation
You can request for early termination of probation anytime during the probation period. The court can also waive your probation or the probation conditions if he feels that the ruling for probation does not serve the best interests of justice.
Your behavior during the probation period will determine whether your probation will be waived after one or two years.
Having your probation waived gives you many benefits, including the chance to look for employment, travel, and expunge your record. Early termination of probation also removes you from the risks of violating the terms of your probation.
Your lawyer will file a motion in court requesting support for the motion and explaining why you qualify for termination of probation. Your lawyer can appear on your behalf during the hearing, or you can attend as well.
The law allows you to request for termination of probation, any time during the probation term. However, judges will often consider granting your request after 12-18 months of probation, depending on whether it is a misdemeanor or felony probation.
Some of the reasons your lawyer can use to explain the reasons why your probation should be terminated include:
- You have paid all the fines and victim restitution
- You have attended all court-ordered classes and counseling sessions
- You have completed your community service term
- You satisfy other court-determined conditions for the probation such as being clean during drug tests
- You have not been arrested for any other offense during the period
- Your conduct shows remorse for your actions, and you are taking a positive direction with your life
The judge determines whether to terminate your probation depending on:
- The opinion of your prosecutor
- Your criminal history
- The severity of the behavior that led to the conviction
- Any hardship the probation is causing you such as
- preventing you from engaging in gainful employment or advancing your current career
- traveling to meet family and career obligations
- obtaining a loan
Early termination has several benefits with the most important being the chance to expunge your criminal record. In California, employers have the right to access your criminal record unless it is sealed or expunged.
Expungement of criminal record means that your conviction is dismissed, therefore removing you from the negative effects of bearing a conviction on your history.
Expungement is important in giving you closure and a sense of having another opportunity to correct your mistakes and enjoy a satisfactory life. In addition, you can apply for jobs and legally say that you have never been convicted. If the crime was a felony, the charges could be reduced to a misdemeanor.
In most cases, your lawyer will apply for an expungement of criminal records while requesting for the early termination of probation.
Defending a Child Endangerment Charge
The strict nature of child protection laws and the desire by the courts to protect them at all costs lands many innocent people in jail. Most of the elements of the crime are highly subjective, which means the prosecution can easily exaggerate negligence, great bodily harm, or your intentions.
Criminal lawyers can recognize loopholes in the prosecution, and develop a solid defense strategy based on this, as well as the circumstances of your case. Hiring a criminal defense lawyer is always a good idea to help increase the chances of avoiding a conviction, reducing the conviction, or getting alternative sentencing such as probation instead of jail time.
Some of the legal defenses for child endangerment charges include:
- Your behavior was not intentional and was not criminally negligent
The prosecution needs to prove that you intentionally acted when placing the child in a situation that endangered them. Since the prosecutor must prove that your actions were negligent or intentional beyond a reasonable doubt, your lawyer can establish enough doubt.
For example, you may have forgotten that the child was in the car, therefore, locking and leaving the child in a hot car. When you leave a child with a violent caretaker, you can cite ignorance of violent behavior. If you hired a violent nanny, yet your background checks do not reveal a history of violence, then you are not guilty of child endangerment.
In some cases, an accident occurred which exposed the child to a dangerous situation. Such an accident is beyond the control of the defendant. For instance, when cooking, a child can accidentally injure itself with a knife they take when you are busy adding ingredients into the pot.
- The parent was reasonably disciplining the child
The law allows parents the right to discipline their children. The parent has the right to choose the disciplining method they use on their children. When you are charged with child endangerment, you can defend yourself by indicating that your behavior was reasonable in disciplining your child.
The law also allows reasonable forms of corporal punishment including spanking, disciplining with a belt, withdrawing a meal, or confining the child to his or her room. The lawyer will use these provisions of the law to convince the court that indeed, you were reasonable disciplining your child.
- False accusations
The increasing awareness by children and other persons about child protection laws can lead to malicious false accusations. The child can report child endangerment to get back at the parent or caregiver. In some cases, the child reports endangerment, through manipulation by another parent. The case of a parent manipulating the child into making a false accusation is common in divorce and separation proceedings where the parent wants to gain custody.
A caregiver, such as a nanny can make a false accusation against the parent, to cover up their abuse on the child.
Your lawyer will conduct the necessary investigations to prove that you were not involved in endangering your child. This will include interviewing witnesses and collecting criminal records of people who are potentially responsible for the crime.
- Mistake of fact
A mistake of facts occurs when a well-meaning person misinterprets the situation. A mistake of fact often negates the intention, leading to proof of a crime. For example, if a child was injured when playing, the doctor may report this as child endangerment or abuse. You can be arrested and charged with child endangerment.
Your lawyer will investigate the case, including talking to the child and his playmates to prove that the parent or caregiver had no role in the injury.
- Someone else endangered the child
Another person other than the defendant can endanger a child. A parent may be arrested for signs of injury or endangerment to the child, even when they are not responsible for the injuries. For example, if the neighbor notices a child is injured and reports suspicion of child endangerment, the parent(s) will be arrested.
If further investigations reveal that another person other than the defendant endangered the child, the prosecution will drop the charges.
- Religious beliefs
California law allows the defense of religious beliefs in failing to get medical care for a child. For example, if you believe in a priest praying for healing, then you should take the child for prayer to the priest. In most cases, the court will order that you take the child to a hospital, and drop your charges.
When you are charged with child endangerment, the investigations can lead to additional or alternative charges for crimes related to child endangerment. Some of these related charges include:
- Child Abuse
Child abuse is often used when referring to child endangerment. Child abuse includes direct physical abuse to a minor. Child abuse occurs when the injury is slight or minor. California law charges child abuse as a misdemeanor or felony depending on the extent of the abuse and the criminal record of the defendant.
If the child dies, you can be charged with the more serious crime of child abuse resulting in death. The minimum sentence, in this case, is 25 years in state prison.
- Child Neglect
Child neglect is the crime of failing to provide care for a child. A parent is required by law to provide sufficient food, adequate shelter, clothing, and medical care. If you fail to provide these needs due to negligence, you are guilty of a misdemeanor.
- Lewd Acts with a Minor
When child endangerment includes exposure of the child to sexual content and improper touching of a child for sexual purposes, you can be charged with the additional crime of lewd acts with a minor. The type of punishment depends on the age of the minor, the age difference between the minor and defendant, and the role of the defender in the child’s life (for example, a caretaker).
Find A Criminal Lawyer Near Me
Child endangerment is a serious crime that could lead to spending time in jail. Having a legal representative by your side will help you prepare a strong defense strategy to prove your innocence, reduce the conviction, have an early termination of your probation, and have your criminal records expunged. At the Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer, we are committed to fighting for the best outcome in your case. Our team has accumulated years of experience in handling child endangerment cases. We leverage our experience in serving our clients to gain the best results possbile. Contact our Los Angeles criminal defense attorney today at 310-502-1314 for a free evaluation of your case.