You commit child abuse when you use corporal punishment or injure a minor. Child abuse charges are common nowadays, and the most worrying thing is how the relationship between parents and children change after such accusations. The law requires all individuals to look out for the wellbeing of minors. When child abuse allegations arise, the accused could be charged without establishing whether the accusations are true or false.
The crime of child abuse is charged under California Penal Code 273 (d), and a conviction attracts severe penalties. Some aspects of your life, such as family relationships, are affected by these charges. If you are in Alhambra, Pasadena, or Los Angeles and are facing child abuse charges, our criminal defense attorneys’ guidance is crucial. At the Law Offices of Alice Tavoukjian, we can help you fight these charges to secure your freedom and restore your reputation.
Overview of Child Abuse Charges
Minors occupy a special place in California Law. The justice system assumes that children do not have the mental or physical capacity to care for themselves. Their parents or guardians cater to most of their responsibilities. As part of caring for children, their parents, or guardians discipline them. Even though California courts do not intervene in how parents bring up their children, some discipline acts are considered abusive and criminal.
Under Penal Code 273(d), California law defines child abuse as any act that inflicts physical, emotional, mental, or sexual injury on a child. Most people assume that causing physical injury to a child is the only offense that attracts criminal charges. However, neglecting a child and failing to perform your duty towards them could count as abuse. Some common forms of child abuse include:
Physical child abuse happens when bodily injury or harm is inflicted on a minor, and the incident is not accidental. Physical abuse could be in the form of burning, hitting, the use of physical restraints, shaking, or choking. Sometimes, corporal punishment could attract criminal charges under PC 273(d) even when it is meant for discipline.
Physical abuse rises when an angry parent or guardian lashes their anger on the minor. Several factors would cause a parent or guardian to abuse a minor. Sometimes physical, unrealistic expectations or mental instability of an adult could make them inflict injury on a child. A child who faces constant physical abuse may find it difficult to relate normally with their peers.
Child sexual abuse occurs when an adult teenager or older person uses force or fear to engage in a sexual act. Sexual abuse on a minor could range from inappropriate touching or copulation or sexual intercourse. Most sexual abuse cases happen in secret, and children may be threatened not to report the abuse. This increases the incidences of abuse. An individual who engages in sexual activities with a minor could face charges for child abuse and sexual crimes they committed, such as rape or oral copulation.
Emotional abuse happens when a child is treated in a manner that could negatively impact their emotional, social, or intellectual wellbeing. Children who experience family and domestic violence could be emotionally traumatized. This predisposes them to a risk of not having their care and protection needs to be met. Emotional violence on a child could affect their overall wellbeing or even cause traumatic stress disorders. Emotional abuse may result from:
- Isolation for long periods
- Exposure to domestic violence
- Teasing and bullying
The general assumption is that child abuse results from things that you do. However, failure to perform your duties towards a minor could attract child abuse charges. Neglect happens when a child’s basic needs are not met, affecting their development and wellbeing. The basic requirements include food, clothing, shelter, health care, and favorable living conditions.
Child abuse charges of any form attract severe punishment upon conviction. If you face child abuse charges for any of the above actions, you need competent legal guidance. When a prosecutor is proving your guilt for child abuse, they will need to establish the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- You used physical punishment on a minor. When you face child abuse charges in California, the prosecutor bears the burden to prove that you inflicted injuries or used physical punishment on a minor.
- You acted willfully. The law defines a willful act as that which you do intentionally. Therefore, the prosecutor is required to establish that your actions were not accidental at the time you committed the crime.
- Your actions inflicted physical, mental, or emotional injury on the minor. You are guilty of child abuse if only you caused some physical, emotional, sexual, or mental harm to the child. However, understanding that physical evidence of the abuse is unnecessary will be crucial if you face child abuse charges.
- When you acted, you were not reasonably disciplining the child. Sometimes child abuse arises when a parent or guardian attempts to discipline the minor but overdoes it. When a prosecutor is proving your guilt under California Penal Code 273(d), it must be clear that your actions were not geared towards discipline the child. The law does not regulate how parents bring up or discipline their children. However, some form of injury towards minors is not acceptable and can attract criminal charges.
The law expects parents or individuals entrusted to take care of children to protect them from harm. If you are negligent and a minor suffers a significant injury, you can be charged with child abuse. Per PC 273(d), a child is any person who is below 18 years.
Penalties for California Penal Code 273(d)
In California, child abuse is a wobbler. The crime can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor depending on factors including:
- The circumstances under which the abuse occurred. The factors surrounding child abuse occurrence will significantly impact your charges’ nature and the severity of the punishment you face.
- The severity of the injury inflicted on the minor. In most cases, child abuse is charged as a misdemeanor. However, where the minor suffered severe bodily injury due to the abuse, you could face felony charges that attract severe penalties.
- Your criminal history. California law is strict on repeat offenders. If you have been convicted for child abuse or a related offense in the past ten years, you could face a felony charge.
A conviction for child abuse brings with it these legal penalties:
Jail and prison sentences are common with child abuse convictions in California. When your crime is treated as a misdemeanor, you will face a jail sentence of up to one year. A felony child abuse is punishable by a jail sentence ranging from two to six years. Sometimes, you do not have to serve a jail or prison sentence after a conviction.
Your attorney can help negotiate with the court to offer you probation as an alternative to incarceration. If you have a prior conviction for child abuse, you will face an additional prison sentence of 4 years. However, the additional penalty will not apply if you finished serving a prison term for prior offenses more than ten years ago.
A conviction for child abuse can result in a substantial fine. California law imposes a fine of $6,000, whether you are convicted for a felony or misdemeanor.
When you are convicted of child abuse in California, you can serve probation instead of jail time. Probation is available for both felony and misdemeanor convictions. However, your attorney must convince the prosecutor that you are eligible for probation. Probation could last between one to five years, depending on the nature of your charges.
Even though probation is better than jail, it comes with conditions, some of which are mandatory. Common terms of probation for a child abuse conviction are:
- Regular reports to the probation officer where you will notify them of your progress
- Obeying a restraining order which prohibits you from coming into contact or making communication with the victim.
- You are required to enroll in a child abuser counseling program for at least one year.
- If you abused the child while under alcohol or drug influence, you will be subjected to random drug testing.
If you fail to adhere to probation terms, the judge could revoke probation and restore the original jail sentence. However, when you comply with all the above conditions, you could be granted early termination. Your request for early termination is made together with the petition to expunge the child abuse criminal record.
Legal Defenses against Child Abuse
Facing a conviction for child abuse could significantly impact your life. Therefore, if you are battling the charges, you need a strong defense. Some legal defenses you can present to your case are:
1. Claim that the injuries on the minor were caused by something else and was not abuse
Children engage in various activities and games that could cause injuries. Since most people are on the lookout for a child’s wellbeing, they could mistake injury on the child as a sign of abuse and report you to the authorities. Mandated reporters could face criminal charges for failure to report instances of child abuse. Therefore, there are pressured to report the slightest suspicion of child abuse. If you can successfully prove that the injury resulted from other reasons not related to abuse, you cannot face a conviction.
2. You are a victim of false accusations
Unfortunately, instances of false allegations are common in California child abuse cases. The allegations could arise from family or domestic violence. An ex-spouse or family member who desires to punish you or is controlled by anger and revenge can falsely accuse you of child abuse. With guidance from a competent criminal defense attorney, you can prove that the allegations are false.
3. You were disciplining the child
Parents and guardians have the right to instill disciple in their children using the punishment they see fit as long as it is reasonable and does not cause injuries. Unfortunately, you can overdo the punishment and face child abuse charges. If you can prove to the jury that the punishment was reasonable, you cannot face a conviction under PC 273(d).
4. The injury was an accident
Before you face a conviction for child abuse, the prosecutor must prove that you willfully harmed the minor. You can use the accident defense in your case. Injuries that result from accidental situations may not result in a criminal conviction. However, it would be best if you established that you did not behave recklessly. Being overly aggressive in an acceptable activity may result in child abuse charges if the minor suffered a substantial injury.
Offenses Related to Child Abuse in California
Penal Code 273 (d) seeks to punish individuals who endanger or harm children intentionally. Crimes that are charged along with or instead of child abuse in California include:
1. Domestic Battery
Domestic battery is a crime you commit when you wilfully use force and violence on a domestic partner. For this statue, a domestic partner could be your current or former spouse, a co-parent of your child, or someone with whom you have a relationship. When a child is injured during an incident of domestic violence, you could face charges for domestic battery alongside child abuse. Before you are convicted for domestic battery, the prosecutor nears a burden to prove that you intentionally made illegal physical contact with the victim. Proof of bodily injury is not necessary to establish your guilt.
A conviction for domestic battery attracts a one-year jail sentence and fines not exceeding $2,000. Sometimes you may escape a jail sentence and serve probation instead. If you are sentenced to probation for domestic battery, the court will mandate that you attend a batterer’s treatment program for one year. If you face charges for domestic battery and child abuse, you should enlist the help of a criminal defense attorney.
2. Child Endangerment
Exposing a minor to injury or harm is defined as child endangerment under PC 273(a). Anyone who deliberately exposes a child to a condition that might harm them is punished severely. Unlike child abuse, proof of physical injury is not required to prove child endangerment. Sometimes you may be sentenced to child endangerment instead of child abuse.
Child endangerment is a wobbler. In most cases, the crime is charged as a misdemeanor, and a one-year jail sentence accompanies a conviction. If your actions resulted in severe injuries on the minor, you would face felony charges that are punishable by a six-year prison sentence.
3. Child Neglect
California PC 270 defines child neglect as willfully failing to provide a child with their necessities without a legal excuse. Neglecting a child is one of the elements of child abuse. Therefore, you may face charges for child neglect instead of child abuse. The elements of a California child neglect case are:
- The defendant is a parent of the child. For this statue, a minor is an individual below eighteen years. Before a prosecutor proves that you are guilty of child neglect, they must establish that you are a biological, legal, or adoptive parent of the alleged victim of neglect. If you have no obligation or rights over the child, you cannot be convicted for negligence.
- The defendant failed to provide necessities. Parents are expected to provide their children with the essentials that include food, shelter, clothing, and medical care. A prosecutor in your case must prove that you failed to provide these needs for the minor.
- The failure to provide was wilful and without a lawful excuse. PC 270 of California requires all parents to provide a minor child with the necessities reasonably. A parent has a lawful excuse not to do this if only they do not earn enough to cater to their child’s needs. However, you have the burden to prove that your reasons for not providing for the minor were lawful.
Child neglect is a misdemeanor that attracts a one-year jail sentence and fines of up to $2,000.
Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
Injuring a minor could result in an arrest and child abuse charges under Penal Code 273(d). There are many forms of child abuse you could be charged with, including physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. California law seeks to protect minors from any form of harm. Therefore, anyone who threatens a child’s safety will face serious consequences.
You can be wrongly accused of child abuse, and without proper defense, you could be punished for a crime you did not commit. When you or your loved one faces child abuse charges, you will need guidance from a competent attorney. We invite you to contact the Law Offices of Alice Tavoukjian for advice and representation in your case. We serve clients in Alhambra, Pasadena, and Los Angeles, CA, work hard to achieve the best outcomes. Call us today at 626-386-8606 for a non-obligatory consultation.