Under California’s child endangerment statute, California Penal Code § 273a, anyone may be charged with the crime, not just parents. However, typically, adults charged with the crime of child endangerment have a child under 18 in their care.
It is a crime under PC § 273a for an adult to:
- Cause or permit a minor to suffer unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering,
- Willfully cause or permit a minor to be injured, or
- Willfully cause or permit a minor to be placed in a dangerous situation.
There are common legal defenses available to defend against a charge of child endangerment. These include violations of state and federal law provisions related to police misconduct and search and seizure. Other defenses include the following:
- The alleged “endangerment” was not willful or intentional, and, therefore did not amount to criminal negligence;
- The defendant was legally disciplining the child;
- The defendant was falsely accused;
- The allegation was a mistake of fact; or
- A person other than the defendant was responsible for the endangerment.
*The “endangerment” was not intentional
For any defendant accused of child endangerment to be convicted under PC § 273a, he or she must have acted willfully or with criminal negligence. The State of California must prove this “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Thus, establishing reasonable doubt or that the act was the result of an accident or ordinary negligence will exonerate the defendant because no violation under PC § 273a has occurred.
*The defendant was legally disciplining the child
In California, parents are permitted to discipline their children in California through “reasonable” corporal punishment, which is another term for physical or bodily punishment. Examples of corporal punishment include spanking by hand, belt, or paddle, and confining a child to his or her room with or without a meal. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help establish that the defendant’s efforts in disciplining a child were reasonable.
*The defendant was falsely accused
It is not uncommon for an ex-spouse to falsely accuse the other spouse of child endangerment. The other parent may even manipulate the child to make the false allegation. A child’s caretaker may make a false accusation to conceal his or her own abusive conduct.
*The allegation was a mistake of fact
Because California’s mandatory reporting law legally requires certain individuals, such as teachers, doctors, and clergymen to report suspected child endangerment to the authorities, accusations may arise because a well-intentioned professional misreads a set of circumstances or facts.
If these individuals ignore the facts, they may be charged with a misdemeanor offense that requires jail time. This is the underlying basis for reporting even the slightest suspicion of child endangerment to authorities. It is a compelling argument that it is not unreasonable to err on the better side of caution in situations involving children.
*Another person endangered the child
It’s possible that the child was endangered, but by someone else who was responsible for the child at the time of the endangerment other than the defendant. It may be a teacher, caregiver, or other entrusted adult.
Criminal law specialist John Patrick Dolan protects the rights of those charged with child endangerment, assault, or domestic violence. Mr. Dolan has over forty years of experience working to help his clients obtain the best resolution possible when freedom and reputation are at stake. Call us today at (760) 775-3739 or find out more online here.