California defines the crime of “child endangerment” in California Penal Code §273(a) and makes it a punishable offense when a parent fails to protect their child, at any point, from actions that could result in mental or physical suffering. The crime of child endangerment focuses on the Defendant’s conduct as it relates to the risks of harm to the child. If a Defendant engages in behavior that places a child in a situation where harm is likely to occur, that person has breached their duty of care to their child and will likely face the criminal charge of child endangerment as a result of their actions.

Child endangerment can be brought as either a misdemeanor or a felony, and is known as a “wobbler offense” in California. The Prosecution must prove that the actions the defendant took were taken willfully, and the result of those actions must result in a situation likely to result in serious bodily injury or death in the child.

The crimes of child endangerment and child abuse are closely related, and are often charged together. The deciding factor is whether or not the child suffered any harm. It is similar to the difference between assault and battery. While a criminal charge of child abuse requires that the child actually suffer harm. In contrast, child endangerment simply requires that the defendant place a child in a dangerous situation. Below are a few examples of conduct that would amount to child endangerment:


  1. Dan left his son in his Porsche in the San Fernando Valley when the temperature was 103 degrees. Dan has committed child endangerment;
  2. Dan gave his loaded handgun to his son for him to play with, Dan has committed child endangerment;
  3. Dan gave his son 5 painkillers, when the doctor told him to only give him one, Dan has committed child endangerment;
  4. Dan’s son has had a flu for 6 days, and Dan has not taken him to a doctor, Dan has committed child endangerment

In order to obtain a conviction for the crime of child endangerment, the Prosecution must prove the following beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. The Defendant acted willfully; OR
    1. The Defendant acted with criminal negligence
  2. The Defendant’s conduct resulted in a child being at risk of suffering;
  3. The Victim was a child in your care

The Prosecution must prove each and every element beyond a reasonable doubt in order to obtain a conviction for child endangerment. As such, a common defense strategy is to simply negate the various elements of the crime the Prosecution is seeking to convict the Defendant of. The attorneys at Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer have decades of combined experience representing clients accused of all forms of criminal conduct; including child endangerment. LACL prides itself of providing their clients with peace of mind and superior representation. Part of providing our clients with peace of mind involves informing them of the crime they have been accused of. The remainder of this article will focus on: (1) the elements of child endangerment, (2) the penalties associated with a conviction for child endangerment; and (3) what Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer can do to assist you if you are accused of child endangerment,


There are two types of criminal intent required for nearly every criminal act; general or specific. General intent means that the Defendant intended to do the act that gave rise to the crime. Specific intent means the Defendant intended the outcome of their act, or acted for a specific reason. Almost all forms of battery are general intent crimes, which means that to satisfy the intent element of the crime, the Defendant only had to intend to do the action that resulted in the touching. It does not matter if the Defendant had no ill-will, or only meant to frighten the Victim The legal community has been engaged in a discussion as to whether this definition is sufficient, it has been suggested that the correct definition of willfully is a person acts “willfully” when they engage in conduct on purpose, they are aware of what they are doing, and they intend to engage in that act[i]. For practical purposes, absent extenuating circumstances, this element is fairly easy for the Prosecution to prove; many of the defenses your LACL attorney can raise will be aimed at negating the possibility that the Defendant was acting willfully.

To obtain a conviction for child endangerment the Prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the conduct which resulted in the child being placed in a dangerous situation was unnecessary or unjustifiable. The Prosecution can prove this element by proving that a reasonable person would refrain from performing the conduct that resulted in the child being placed in a dangerous situation.

What Is Criminal Negligence?

A Defendant can be found guilty of elder abuse if they acted willfully or with criminal negligence. Criminal negligence occurs when the Defendant fails to exercise the duty of care a reasonable person in an identical situation would have provided. If you failed to act, or acted recklessly, as it relates to an elderly person you had custody or care of, you may face elder abuse charges based on your negligence.

In addition to proving that the defendant acted with criminal negligence, the Prosecution must also prove that your negligence was the actual cause of the harm to the elderly person.

It is not criminal negligence does not encompass inattention, the Prosecution must show that:

  1. Your conduct was so reckless, that it amounts to a major departure from what a reasonable person would do in an identical situation;
  2. Your conduct amounted to a disregard for human life or a cold indifference to the likely outcome of your conduct.


Dan’s son is seven (7) years old and has been sick for five (5) days. Dan is determined to not take his son to the doctor. Dan will be found guilty of child endangerment because he is acting willfully in not taking his son to get medical help. In acting willfully, Dan is putting his son at risk of significant harm, and that harm is unjustifiable. Dan was extremely drunk one night, and took his son for a car ride to the gas station to get more alcohol. Dan has committed child endangerment because he acted willfully because he drove the vehicle. Driving under the influence places his son at risk of significant harm. Further, that risk of harm is unjustifiable.

What Is The Definition Of Great Bodily Harm?

If the Defendant’s conduct results in serious bodily injury to the Victim, the Defendant will face felony charges for elder abuse. Serious Bodily Injury in turn, means a serious injury as opposed to a minor injury. It is not necessary that the Prosecutor prove that serious bodily injury occurred, but if that is shown, the Defendant will face penalties which are far more severe than the penalties associated with elder abuse not resulting in serious bodily injury.

I Have Been Convicted Of Child Endangerment, What Penalties Might I Face?

Child endangerment is referred to as a “wobbler offense” in California. This means the Prosecution can choose to bring the charges of child endangerment as either a misdemeanor or a felony. The determination is made by the District Attorney and is based on the amount of risk to the child.

If you are convicted of misdemeanor child endangerment, you will face incarceration in county jail for a period of one (1) year and/or a fine of up to one-thousand ($1,000) dollars and/or misdemeanor probation for a minimum of four (4) years.

If you are convicted of felony child endangerment, you will face incarceration in a California State Prison for a period ranging from two (2) to four (4) years and/or a fine of up to ten-thousand ($10,000) dollars, and/or felony probation for a minimum of four (4) years.

If you are convicted of felony child endangerment, and the child suffered serious bodily injury you will face an enhanced period of incarceration in California State Prison for a period of three (3) to six (6) years.

If you are convicted of a felony, and the child died as a result of your conduct you will face an additional four (4) years of incarceration in a California State Prison. Additionally you may face charges of murder or manslaughter.

I Have Been Accused Of Child Endangerment, How Can Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer Help Me?

The crime of child endangerment can be brought as either a misdemeanor or a felony, this is known as a “wobbler offense.” The Prosecutor ultimately makes the decision of how to bring the charges against the Defendant. This is determined by the degree of risk the child faces.

Ultimately a conviction will appear on your criminal record for a long time and may serve as the basis for enhanced penalties if you are subsequently convicted of another crime. This may affect your future job prospects. Employers frequently conduct background searches to weed out candidates for positions with their company. Employers are hesitant to hire individuals with a felony or a misdemeanor on the criminal record. Further, the crime of child endangerment carries a social stigma with it that may further convince the employer to abstain from hiring you.

Additionally, you will be forced to place your name on the domestic violence registry, which can be viewed by anyone who wishes to do so.

Having competent counsel representing you will provide you the best opportunity to obtain a favorable outcome to your case. At your trial, your LACL attorney will raise the following defenses:

  • Wrongfully accused.
  • There are some cases where you have been accused of conduct by someone you know, even though you did not actually do what you have been accused of. There are many reasons for this, but LACL has extensive experience representing those who have been falsely accused. If you or a loved one has been wrongly accused of Child endangerment, contact LACL immediately. You did not act willfully
  • You had the right to discipline your childYou did not behave in an unreasonable or excessive manner.

If you or a loved one has been accused of child endangerment contact Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer at 310-502-1314 immediately for a FREE consultation.

i California Crim. Jury Instr. Companion Handbook § 5:1, California Crim. Jury Instr. Companion Handbook § 5:1