People often use the terms “child endangerment” and “child abuse” interchangeably. However, they mean and describe different situations. California criminalizes both types of conduct in separate statutes, California Penal Code § 273a PC and California Penal Code § 273d PC. Child abuse is often charged with other crimes against children such as child endangerment and child neglect.

California Penal Code § 273a PC (child endangerment) criminalizes behavior where a person willfully causes or permits a child under 18 to suffer or be injured. Not only does this prohibition in this statue apply where a person has the care or custody of a child, but it also applies where any individual places a child in a situation where his or her person or health is endangered. Thus, a person may be charged for subjecting the child to an unreasonable risk of harm, even if the child is not factually harmed as a result.

Examples of behavior that may be considered the endangerment of a child include the following:

  • Leaving a dangerous weapon, such as a loaded firearm or sharp, dangerous object, where a child may easily have access to it;
  • Failing to get medical assistance for an ill child who requires treatment
  • Driving while intoxicated with a minor in the vehicle;
  • Allowing the child to get a tattoo (a violation of Penal Code § 653);
  • Taking drugs in the presence of a minor; or
  • Leaving a minor under the supervision of another adult who has a history of abusive behavior.

California Penal Code § 273d PC (child abuse) criminalizes the willful infliction of cruel or inhuman corporal punishment or an injury resulting in a traumatic condition. California law contains mandatory reporting requirements by certain professions, such as doctors, nurses, teachers, child-care workers, clergy, and social workers, to report suspected occurrences of child abuse and neglect. The list of actions that constitute child abuse is theoretically limitless.  Any act that injures a child may be considered abuse if it causes a traumatic condition or is “cruel and inhuman.”

While both statutes punish willful, intentional harm to a child, unlike child abuse, child endangerment does not require physical injury or harm.

Child endangerment and child abuse are both “wobblers” under California law. A wobbler is a crime that may be punished as either a felony or a misdemeanor. Typically, the prosecution decides whether to charge a wobbler as a felony or a misdemeanor. However, a judge may also decide to punish a wobbler as a misdemeanor.

The question of whether child abuse or child endangerment is charged as a felony typically depends on the presence of great bodily injury or harm. In the case of child endangerment, if the situation or condition is not likely to produce great bodily injury or death, then misdemeanor charges will likely be filed. Those defendants who are convicted of a wobbler felony may later file a petition to reduce a felony conviction to a misdemeanor.

Both statutes require minimum periods of probation. § 273a (child endangerment) requires 48 months of probation while § 273d (child abuse) requires 36 months. Both statutes also require criminal court protective orders protecting the victim from further acts of violence or threats, and, if appropriate, residence exclusion or stay-away conditions.

Anyone who is convicted under either the California child abuse or child endangerment statutes who engaged in the subject criminal behavior while under the influence of drugs or alcohol must abstain from their use and be subject to random testing during the period of probation.

Hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney is crucial to defend any criminal charge. The advice, guidance, and representation of experienced criminal defense counsel may be crucial to achieving the best possible result in any criminal matter. John Patrick Dolan has forty years of criminal defense experience. Contact Dolan Law Offices today at 760-775-3739 or 562-824-4007 to discuss your situation or find out more online here.

Distinguishing Child Abuse And Child Endangerment

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