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The California Mandatory reporting law mandates certain professionals such as teachers, social workers, or clergy members to report cases of actual or suspected child abuse or child neglect to law enforcement or social services agencies. In their eagerness to avoid criminal prosecution, they may report cases even if it is misinterpreted as child abuse pitting innocent people against law enforcement.

Therefore, you might find yourself facing criminal charges on child abuse or child neglect, even if you had no ill intentions to harm your loved one. As such, our law firm will discuss the Child Abuse law below, to inform you of your options and ensure you comprehend what you are up against.

What is Considerd Child Abuse in California?

Child abuse also referred to as corporal injury on a child; it is defined under California’s Penal Code 273d PC as the act of willfully inflicting any inhuman, cruel corporal punishment, injury on a minor, or person below the age of 18 years - resulting in a traumatic injury.

For the purposes of this law, a ‘willfully inflicted injury’ means that the injury was caused deliberately, although, it’s not a must that the person’s intentions were to cause injury to the child or to violate the law. Additionally, corporal punishment implies physical rather than emotional punishment while a traumatic case means an injury or wound be it minor or severe, which is as a result of the direct use of force.  

California considers acts such as punching, hitting, slapping, pushing, kicking, choking, shaking, burning or hurling objects at a minor as abusive acts.

Spanking and the California Child Abuse Laws

So, what does the California law say on spanking? Spanking, a common form of corporal punishment involves the act of striking the buttocks of another person to cause physical pain, mostly with an open hand. It is not seen as child abuse if; it serves a disciplinary motive and is reasonable given the circumstances. Spanking can be done with an item, for instance, a paddle or belt or with bare hands. Nevertheless, spanking is controversial, and in most cases, the jury is left with the discretion to decide if the spanking was cruel, inhuman, or even excessive. 

What the Prosecutor Needs to Prove in a California Child Abuse Case

The prosecuting attorney needs to demonstrate the following facts of a crime beyond any reasonable doubt to obtain a conviction for under the California Penal Code 273d PC.

They need to show the court; that the offender willfully caused inhuman or cruel corporal punishment on a child, that the injury and/or punishments inflicted by the offender lead to physical trauma and that the offender was not sensibly disciplining the child.

Is it Possible for Previous Cases of Child Abuse to be used as Evidence in Court?

The California Evidence Code establishes rules on what type of evidence is acceptable in a California criminal jury trial. It determines that prior or preceding convictions might not be brought forth to sentence a person since that evidence is ordinarily seen as excessively prejudicial.

However, for child abuse cases, there is an exception. Such evidence is admissible, even if the initial acts of abuse on a minor never lead to a conviction. This demonstrates to the court that the accused has an inclination towards violence.

Fortunately, the law requires that a judge first conducts a court proceeding to determine the value of such evidence against the possibility of prejudice. At such a hearing, a judge determines whether such evidence may unjustifiably predispose the jury to prejudice. They also will consider if there is substantiating or corroborating evidence to include the initial allegations and the time gap between the initial offense and the present violations.

Generally, a prosecuting attorney may not bring forth earlier convictions as evidence if 10 years have passed since the alleged acts took place. However, a judge may decide to have it included in the current case for the sake of justice.

Is it Possible for Previous Cases of Domestic or Family Violence to be Admissible as Evidence in Court?

It is also possible for the prosecutor to bring forth evidence of past cases of domestic or family violence, if any, committed by the defendant, to support the allegations of child abuse. This is only possible if the following conditions are met. First, they may introduce such evidence only if; the ongoing court proceedings for child abuse are against; a child who frequently stays with the accused, the defendant’s child or a child who previously used to stay with them. Secondly, they may introduce such evidence if the acts were committed not later than 5 years ago and involved the defendant’s spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend, a person that the accused was dating or a parent to the defendant’s child.

To ascertain if the evidence is acceptable, a judge holds a hearing to determine whether the evidence might be too prejudicial or if it shows the defendant’s predisposition towards violence.

Penalties for Child Abuse

California Child abuse is a wobbler meaning that it can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor according to the prosecutor’s discretion. Factors that will inform their decision include; the facts of the crime and the past criminal record of the defendant, and perhaps, evidence on prior child abuse or domestic violence.

In case the first offense is just a minor one, then it is a misdemeanor. Felonious charges are mostly filed if the defendant’s actions were cruel in nature if they lead to severe injuries on the child and/or if the accused has past convictions under PC 273d or related cases.

If charged with felonious child abuse, the defendant faces a court fine of up to $6000 and/or two, four or six years in county jail. They may also get felony probation rather than all or part of the jail sentence.

In case they face charges for misdemeanor child abuse, they may be sentenced to a maximum of one year in jail, and/or a maximum fine of $6000. They may also get summary or misdemeanor probation.

A defendant’s jail sentence may be increased by four years if they have past convictions for child abuse, unless, they have not been incarcerated within the last 10 years for any felonious crime and provided that they served any imprisonment for previous convictions not less than 10 years ago.

Probation Rather than Jail Time for Child Abuse

If you are convicted of corporal injury on a child in California, it is possible to serve probation time rather than jail time, and it does not matter whether you were sentenced for a felony child abuse crime or a misdemeanor child abuse violation. Nevertheless, a probation sentence comes with terms and conditions, where some are discretionary, and others are compulsory. They include;

  • A compulsory child abuser program for counseling and treatment,
  • Random drug tests in case the accused was influenced by alcohol or drugs during the commission of the violation,
  • Frequent reporting to a probation office holder,
  • A 3 years’ probation term and,
  • A protective order from the criminal court which might include stay-away orders or residence exclusion.

Breaking the Terms and Conditions of the Probation Sentence

In case you violate the terms of your California misdemeanor or felony probation, you must attend a probation revocation or a probation violation hearing for a judge to determine your case.

Here, a judge may revoke your probation and send you to jail, issue new and severe probation conditions, or reinstate your probation under the same terms.

Granting Premature Probation Termination

The California Penal Code 1203.3 PC allows a judge to terminate a defendant’s probation sentence earlier than scheduled.  To achieve this, you need to show at least a year of conformity to the terms of your probation sentence.

In case the judge grants a premature termination of probation, the court may also expunge the defendant’s criminal record, and reduce a felonious charge to a misdemeanor in felony wobbler cases.

Before the early termination of your probation sentence, the judge has to make sure that; you have compiled and successfully completed your major probation conditions such as counseling classes, fines or restitution, and that there are reasonable grounds to justify the early termination of probation. Valid reasons that may support early termination of probation may include the facts showing that the probation is holding you from obtaining gainful employment, hindering you from progressing at work, or impeding on obligatory travel.

What does California’s 3 Strikes law say about a Penal Code 273d Conviction?

To understand the California 3 strikes law, it is crucial that we find out what a strike offense is. Basically, a previous conviction is a strike if you were convicted for a serious or violent felony as established in the California Penal Code.

 If you are convicted of a felony child abuse, where the child sustained great bodily injuries resulting from the abuse, then your conviction might be counted as a strike under the ‘3 strikes laws’ of California. This means that you will get a double sentence if you are convicted for any other subsequent felonious offense. The third strike for a third-time felony conviction implies that you must serve for a minimum of twenty-five years to life imprisonment in a California state facility.

Possible Defenses to Corporal Injury on a Child Charges in California 

Commonly used legal defenses like police misconduct or mistaken identity may also be applicable in defending California’s corporal injury on a child charges.

  1. Police misconduct

    In case a law enforcement officer uses excessive force when making an arrest they may have violated your civil rights granted under the US Constitution's Fourth Amendment. A defense attorney may use this argument to have the court dismiss charges against you on the basis of an illegal arrest. 
  1. Mistaken Identity

    Mistaken identity is a significant problem that leads to wrongful convictions in criminal cases in California due to a witness imperfect memory, or law enforcement and court’s failure to keep up with research. In such a case, a skilled defense attorney will help you to poke holes into the witness accounts and hopefully get the charges dismissed or at least get the unfair identification excluded from the trial.
  2. The accused was disciplining their child within the law

    It is legally acceptable for parents to punish their children even if it means administering corporal punishment, using objects such as belts or paddles, for as far as the spanking results to no bodily injuries and the punishment is reasonable and meant for instilling discipline.

Regrettably, spanking may lead to child abuse charges. A disgruntled lover may use the spanking to make false allegations or perhaps a teacher may notice a child’s redness and as mandated by California’s Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act, report you to child welfare department or law enforcement leading to your arrest.

A defense attorney is in a position to articulate to the court that such punishment was sensible given the circumstances and that it was meant for disciplining their child. Thus, you may not be guilty of the offense. 

  1. It was not abuse that caused the injuries

    At times injuries on a child may be due to other sources such as bullying, or fights in school. Sometimes such injuries may not be evident to the child’s caretakers or parents, and the child might be too afraid to tell. If mandated reporters notice such injuries, they might report them to law enforcement leading to arrests of innocent people. 

A San Diego criminal defense attorney may engage a medical doctor to examine the said injuries to prove to the court that they are unfairly prosecuting the defendant based on wrongful evidence. 

  1. The allegations on the defendant are false

    In most instances, claims of child abuse arise from domestic or family conflicts. People end up accusing others falsely, motivated by jealousy, anger, revenge, the desire to control others or gain custody of a child. A child, who is unhappy with a parent’s new romantic partner or a stepparent, may also make such accusations in a bid to gain control of their situations.

        During such times, having a lawyer by your side may be the only option to guarantee your freedom. 

  1. The injuries were due to an accident

    You must have acted deliberately and intentionally to be found guilty of violating California’s child abuse laws. Thus, citing an accident as the source of injuries on a child can be a legal defense for your case.

Instances that may lead to accidental injuries to children may include; hitting your child with a baseball bat since you did not notice them in the swing circle during practice, hitting a minor during Karate practice, or slamming a vehicle’s door while a child’s hand is on the door frame.

Our experienced attorney will be able to help you present your story to demonstrate that the injury was a result of an accident and not due to willful infliction.

What other Offenses are Related to California Penal Code 273d PC Child Abuse?  

There are a number of specific crimes that are filed alongside child abuse charges or in lieu of these charges. They are;

California Battery

PC 242 is the law that criminalizes acts of battery in California. Also known as simple battery, it is the willful and unlawful use of violence or force on someone else. Under this code, all that is of concern is that you touched another person offensively even if the touching did not result in injury or pain to that person.

You will face California battery charges rather than child abuse charges if the force, physically applied on a child did not lead to a traumatic case, or if it didn’t amount to inhuman or cruel punishment. 

Penal Code 242 PC-California battery is punished as a misdemeanor, and it attracts a maximum fine of $2000 and/or six months in a county facility.

California Child Neglect  

Laws criminalizing the acts of child neglect are established under the California PC 270. This offense is also known as ‘failure to provide care’ to a child. It is defined as the failure to offer physical necessities to one’s child without a lawful excuse. Necessities include shelter, food or clothing, and any required medical attention.

Child neglect is a misdemeanor in California and is punished by a maximum of one year in county jail or a maximum fine of $2000.

If a court determines that you are the parent to a minor, but you still fail to provide care to such a child, you could be charged with felony child neglect, which is punishable by up to one year in a county jail, one year and a day in a state prison or a $2000 fine.

Also, if you have a prior conviction by a criminal or civil court for child neglect, then PC 270 is a wobbler, and if it is filed as a felonious crime, jail time is increased to sixteen months, two or three years. 

Child Endangerment

The California Penal Code 273a PC punishes the acts of deliberately and willfully exposing a child to danger. The difference between this law and child abuse is that for child endangerment, it is not a must that a child is physically injured or harmed. It is charged if a child is put in circumstances where their health or well-being is at risk; thus, in this case, it is the possibility of risks or serious danger that is punished.

The Penal Code 273a PC can be filed against anyone and not just the child’s parents. These charges can be filed when an adult; permits or causes a child to suffer unjustifiable mental or physical pain, deliberately permits or causes a child to be injured, or deliberately permits or causes a child to be exposed to a dangerous situation.

The penalties under PC 273a rely on whether the dangers the child was exposed to included great bodily harm or death. If none of the above possibilities were present, then the child endangerment is a misdemeanor crime, whose punishment is up to one year in a county jail or a fine of up to $1000.

In case there were risks of death or great injury, then Penal Code 273a PC is a wobbler, punished as a misdemeanor or a felony. Felonious child endangerment charges carry possible California state prison terms of two, four or six years, and/or a fine of up to $10,000.  

Domestic Violence

The California domestic violence codes punish the acts of harming or threatening to harm, an intimate partner. This crime is punished under Penal Code 243(e)(1) domestic battery and Penal Code 273.5 Inflicting bodily injury on an intimate partner. These laws also encompass acts of violence against children, romantic partners, or senior citizens; thus, you may also face charges under the California Penal Code 368 PC, elder abuse.

These crimes are California wobblers, punished as misdemeanors or felonies. Convictions for domestic violence offenses not only attract incarceration terms and court fines but may also result in consequences such as mandatory domestic violence classes, restitution to the victims, loss of custody rights, restraining orders, loss of rights to possess firearms, immigration consequences to non-citizens and permanent criminal records.

Find a Child Abuse Defense Attorney Near Me

In California, cases of child abuse are heavily prosecuted and punished because such offenses involve defenseless and innocent children. Thus, if you or your loved one is facing accusations for child abuse, it is important that you retain the services of a skilled criminal defense lawyer. At San Diego Criminal Attorney law firm, our child abuse defense lawyers may be able to offer proficient legal services dedicated to protecting your rights as well as helping you to avoid severe penalties.

We invite you to contact us at 619-880-5474.