Guide to Navigating Child Endangerment Charges

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Child endangerment charges are serious. Our top rated attorneys can help you navigate your case. View our guide to defense.

Los Angeles Child Endangerment Attorneys

Any criminal actions involving children as victims get a great deal of attention in Los Angeles. Police and prosecutors strictly enforce child endangerment laws in Los Angeles. If they charge you or a loved one with child endangerment, you should immediately contact experienced Los Angeles child endangerment attorneys to protect your rights and your good name.

What is Child Endangerment in California?

Child endangerment is defined in California Penal Code §273(a) PC. Child endangerment occurs when a person exposes a child under 18 to unjustifiable pain, physical or mental suffering or danger.

Child endangerment is sometimes called child abuse. However, as discussed below, California has a separate child abuse law.

In order to charge a person with child endangerment, it is unnecessary for the person to injure the child. Rather, simply exposing the child to an unreasonable risk of harm is enough to support the charge.

What Must the State Prove in Order to Get a Conviction for Child Endangerment?

There are several elements to the crime of child endangerment. As in every criminal case, the prosecutor must prove each element beyond a reasonable doubt in order to support a conviction. In order to convict a person of child endangerment, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant willfully did one of the following:

  • Inflicted unjustifiable mental or physical pain/suffering on the child victim;
  • Caused or permitted another person to inflict unjustifiable mental or physical pain/suffering on the child;
  • Caused or permitted the child’s person or health to be injured while having custody of the child; or
  • Caused or permitted the child to be placed in a dangerous situation while having custody of the child.

In addition, the prosecutor must show that the defendant was criminally negligent when he/she placed or permitted the child to suffer, be injured or become endangered.

Lastly, if the defendant is a parent of the child, the prosecutor must show that the parent was not reasonably punishing the child.

Child Endangerment and DUI

If the police charge a person with Driving Under the Influence of alcohol or drugs, that person may face the loss of driving privileges and substantial fines. However, if that person also has a minor child in the car, they may face child endangerment charges.

  • If the police charge a driver with a DUI, and there is a child in the car, they frequently add a charge of child endangerment.

  • If that child is under 14, the police can charge the driver with violation of VC §23572 VC. Under that section, convicted drivers can have two days to three months added onto their DUI sentence, depending on how many DUI prior convictions they have.

What Are the Penalties for Child Endangerment in California?

Child endangerment charges can be treated as a misdemeanor or felony.

  • If treated as a misdemeanor, the judge can sentence the defendant up to one year in county jail and fine him/her up to $1,000.

  • If the act of child endangerment places the child in danger of great bodily harm or death, the crime becomes a “wobbler.” Depending on the circumstances of the endangering act, and the defendant’s criminal history, the case is treated as a felony or misdemeanor.

  • If treated as a felony, the judge can sentence the defendant up to six years in state prison. The judge can also impose a fine of up to $10,000.

  • Furthermore, there is a sentencing enhancement when the defendant’s actions seriously injure the child.

  • If the defendant personally and seriously injured the child, the judge will impose an additional consecutive sentence of three to six years in state prison.

  • If the endangering act/situation killed the child, the judge could sentence the defendant to an additional four-year consecutive sentence.

Conviction of felony child endangerment charges can count as a “strike” under California’s three-strikes law (Penal Code §667 PC). This occurs when the defendant and/or the act of endangerment seriously injure the child.

What Are Some Defenses Los Angeles Child Endangerment Attorneys Raise in These Cases?

Aside from typical defenses raised in criminal cases, there are a few unique defenses to child endangerment charges:

  • The defendant did not act willfully or criminally negligently Remember, the prosecutor must prove every element of the crime.
  • That is a very high standard. If an experienced Los Angeles child endangerment lawyer can show that the defendant did not willfully violate the law, there is no crime.

Likewise, criminal negligence is more than ordinary negligence or making a mistake or error in judgment. Criminal negligence happens when someone acts recklessly and in disregard for human life. If the defendant was not criminally negligent, he did not commit a crime.

  • The defendant parent was reasonably disciplining the child Spanking is not against the law in California. Neither is hitting a child with a belt, confining them to a room or sending them to bed with no supper.

As long as the discipline is reasonable, the police should not be charging a parent with child endangerment.

What is Child Abuse in California?

Child abuse in California is covered by Penal Code §273(d). A person commits child abuse when she willfully strikes a child under the age of 18 and causes a “traumatic injury,” such as a bruise, open wound, etc.

Examples of child abuse can be punching, slapping, kicking or vigorously shaking a child.

The difference between child abuse and child endangerment is that, in a case of child endangerment, there is no requirement that the defendant physically injures the child.

The law treats child abuse differently from other crimes in Los Angeles. In a child abuse case, the prosecution may enter evidence of past acts of child abuse. Prior bad acts are usually not admissible in criminal cases.

They may also introduce prior acts of domestic violence in certain circumstances.

What Are the Penalties for Child Abuse?

Child abuse is also a “wobbler” crime. Again, the facts of a particular case will determine whether the prosecutor charges a felony or a misdemeanor.

  • A misdemeanor conviction means up to one year in county jail and a $6,000 fine.

  • If the injuries to the child were serious and/or if the defendant had prior convictions for child abuse, the prosecution would charge a felony.

  • A felony conviction can lead to up to six years in jail and up to a $6,000 fine.

  • If the defendant had a prior conviction for child abuse, the judge can add another four years to the sentence. A conviction of felony child abuse will count as a “strike” under California’s three-strikes law if the defendant seriously injured the child.

What Are Defenses to Child Abuse Charges?

Similar to child endangerment, the police should not charge a parent who is reasonably disciplining a child with child abuse. Allegations of child abuse are sometimes raised in custody proceedings during a divorce.

A disgruntled spouse will accuse the former partner of abusing a child. Or a spouse will encourage a child to say that. In either event, experienced Los Angeles child abuse attorneys will investigate, interview witnesses, and prove the falsity of such made-up claims.

Los Angeles Child Endangerment Defense Lawyers

Persons facing charges of child endangerment and/or child abuse need knowledgeable Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys. Law enforcement can treat either child abuse or child endangerment charges as felonies. Conviction of felony charges can mean years in state prison.

Daniel Perlman and Matthew Cohen are experienced Los Angeles criminal lawyers at Perlman & Cohen. They have represented numerous Los Angeles clients in child endangerment and child abuse cases. Perlman & Cohen will stand by anyone charged with a crime. We will investigate the matter and prepare a comprehensive defense to the charges.

In appropriate cases, we will negotiate a plea to lesser charges. Otherwise, we will prepare the case for trial and make prosecutors prove their case beyond reasonable doubt. Call them at (310) 299-0062 to set up a free consultation.

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