Facing child abuse charges is a challenging situation that could lead to harsh legal consequences. California has enforced laws that make it mandatory for some professionals to report child abuse they may observe or believe to happen to minors. This means that you could face child abuse charges even when you have not injured your child. Society in general views child abuse negatively, which makes it critical to engage the services of an attorney as soon as you realize you are facing child abuse charges.
California laws are strict regarding child abuse as they aim at protecting minors and ensuring that they grow in a conducive environment. Though it may be difficult as a parent to differentiate between child abuse and reasonable discipline, you should ensure that you draw the line where discipline applies. Proving in a court that you were disciplining your child and not trying to injure or harm them could be challenging to unravel. Therefore, you will have to engage the services of our Chula Vista Criminal Attorney to help with your defense and ensure that you obtain the best possible outcome in your case.
Legal Definition Of Child Abuse or Corporal Injury In California
Under Penal Code 273(d), child abuse is willfully inflicting inhuman, cruel, or corporal punishment on a child, leading to physical injury or a traumatic condition.
The law defines a traumatic condition as any bodily injury that results from applying physical force against a minor, and it doesn't matter whether the damage is minor or severe. The court will consider your punishment to have caused a traumatic condition when:
- your punishment results in a traumatic condition or injury,
- the injury or condition would not have taken place without your punishment,
- Your punishment plays a crucial role in the cause of the traumatic condition.
For Example, if your daughter spends the night out at her best friend's house without your permission. When she gets home, you slap her out of anger to show her that she needs your consent to spend the night out. Unfortunately, the slap causes your daughter to bite her tongue, and you take her to the hospital for treatment. The law makes it mandatory for health care workers to report any form of child abuse, and they, therefore, report you for child abuse. Your intention was not to injure or hurt your daughter, but you can still face child abuse charges because you had every intention to slap her. Child abuse includes the following acts but is not limited to them:
- When you shake a baby forcefully, causing injuries or even brain damage
- Slapping or hitting a child, thereby leaving marks on them.
- Throwing a minor
- Throwing objects at the child
- Deliberately burning a child using a cigarette.
- Choking a child
- Pushing or punching a child.
Elements Of Child Abuse Charge
For a child abuse charge to hold in court, the prosecution has to prove the following elements beyond any reasonable doubts:
- That you willfully inflicted inhuman punishment on a minor. Wilful, in this instance, means that your actions were deliberate, not accidental or negligent.
- That cruel punishment resulted in a traumatic condition for the minor.
- You were not disciplining the child when you caused their injury.
- The alleged victim is a minor, which means they must be below 18 years when the alleged offense occurred. If the act were against an adult, you would face assault charges.
Can You Face Child Abuse Charges After Spanking A Minor In California?
Under PC 273(d), the law does not recognize spanking as a form of child abuse if it is not done excessively or for disciplinary purposes. The spanking should be carried out using a belt, paddle, or hand and should not lead to severe bodily injury. When it comes to reasonable discipline, it is an area that is not clear, and both the jury and judge determine when the spanking stops being a disciplinary measure and becomes child abuse. The difference between disciplining and abusing your child is a controversial area, and you will be better off having your attorney handle it.
Can Previous Domestic Violence Cases Be Admissible As Evidence Against You?
Sometimes the prosecution may bring to court your domestic violence records as evidence against you during a child abuse case. The prosecution will introduce these records to show the court that you tend to lean towards violence. For the court to allow this evidence, it means that your current child abuse allegations are against:
- a domestic violence victim’s child.
- A child who spends most of their time with the domestic violence defendant in your previous case
- The DV allegation was for the period within the last five years and involved someone you were seriously dating, a spouse, your live-in boyfriend, or your girlfriend.
The judge holds a hearing first before the prosecution can use your previous domestic violence record against you. The hearing aims to determine if using the records as evidence will help ensure justice is served and that the jury will not be unduly prejudiced against you.
The Impact Of A Previous Criminal Record On Your Child Abuse Charge
The prosecution can use your previous criminal records, especially about a corporal injury. These records are admissible in a court against you when facing child abuse charges. It doesn't matter whether the court convicted you for the prior corporal injury.
Though California does not allow the prosecution to use prior convictions as evidence against you in a current case, it has an exception for child abuse cases. The law does not treat a previous history as prejudicial when dealing with child abuse cases, as it aims at protecting the minor. The prosecution will use your prior records to show or prove to the court that you tend to lean towards violence.
You do not have to worry very much if you have a previous criminal record. The judge will hold a hearing to decide whether using your record will be beneficial in the case against you and the likelihood of the jury being prejudiced against you. A judge will consider the following before allowing the prosecution to use your prior record as evidence against you in court:
- The time has passed between your previous criminal record and your current charge. The prosecution can not use your previous criminal history against you after ten years between the two cases.
- If there is any evidence for the allegations brought previously against you,
- If there is a chance the evidence will have the jury prejudiced against you
Penalties For Child Abuse
Under PC 273(d), California treats child abuse as a wobbler offense. In this instance, the prosecution can charge you with either a felony or a misdemeanor offense depending on the following facts:
- Your previous criminal record, if you have any ( especially evidence of prior child or domestic abuse)
- The circumstances leading to the offense.
You should note that you will mostly face misdemeanor charges, especially if it's your first offense. The prosecution will file felony charges against you when your acts against the minor were ruthless. When you have convictions for child neglect, abuse, or a related offense, and when the minor suffers severe injuries due to your actions, you can also face felony charges.
If the court convicts you for misdemeanor charges, your sentencing will lead to:
- county jail imprisonment for a period that goes up to one year.
- Payment of $ 6,000 in fines
- Summary probation.
For a felony conviction, the sentence will lead to:
- Imprisonment ranges from two up to six years in jail.
- Payment of $6,000 in fines.
- Formal(felony) probation.
- Negatively affect your immigration status.
- Earn a strike against your record under California Three Strikes Law
Additionally, you can face an increase in your jail time by up to four years if you had a previous child abuse conviction as a sentence enhancement under PC 273(d)(b). However, these sentences can be reduced if you served your time more than ten years ago and haven't served any felony convictions within the last decade. You should note that your sentence length will depend on your criminal history and the seriousness of the minor’s injuries.
Understanding Probation In California
Sometimes, you may have to serve probation as your sentence after a child abuse conviction instead of spending time in jail. The judge can have you on probation in child abuse cases regardless of how the prosecution charged your offense. What is critical is ensuring you follow all the terms and conditions of your probation. Some of the probation terms and conditions include and are not limited to:
- Reporting to a probation officer regularly
- Observing and obeying restraining orders
- Attending a child abuser mandatory class that lasts for a minimum period of one year
- Random drug tests if you committed the offense while under the influence of alcohol and drugs
- Being on probation for a minimum period of three years
Violation Of Probation Terms and Conditions
If for any reason, you fail to meet the terms set for your probation, the judge may end up revoking your probation. Once the judge revokes your probation, they can decide to either bench your warrant, have you arrested and sent to jail, or give you new and harsher terms and conditions for your probation. The best part about probation is that the judge can terminate before the time expires if you fulfill all the terms and conditions set for your probation. After serving one or two years of your probation, your defense attorney can request an early probation termination which goes hand in hand with an expungement petition or a request to have your charge reduced from felony to misdemeanor.
Earning A Strike Against Your Record Under California Three Strikes Law
Child abuse is a serious crime, especially where the minor suffers excellent bodily injury due to your actions. If the prosecution charges you with a felony offense, a conviction could earn you a strike against your record under California's Three Strikes Law. Having a strike against your history ensures that you will spend more time in jail if you are convicted of a felony offense in the future. You should be very careful, as earning the three strikes against your record will earn you a minimum of 25 years to a life sentence in state prison.
Best Legal Defenses Against Child Abuse Charges
Due to the severity of the penalties that a conviction can earn, you will need to develop the best possible defense, which will have your charge changed to misdemeanor from felony or have it dismissed altogether.
The Injuries Were As A Result of Something else, and Not Abuse
You will realize that sometimes your child or a minor under your care may be injured and fail to tell you the cause of their injury. It could result from bullying in school or an accident, and they are afraid to confide in you. Since California has a mandatory reporting law against some professionals, such a well-meaning professional may report you for child abuse. Some of the professionals who the law has tasked with the duty of mandatory reporting any case of child abuse or suspected child abuse include:
- social workers,
- religious leaders,
- school administrators
Since these professionals are duty-bound to report any suspected child abuse cases, you should have your defense team come up with a way to prove to the court that you were not responsible for the minor’s injuries. You can achieve this by bringing in professionals like doctors to evaluate the injuries sustained and give their professional opinion on the damages. You can use this defense to show the court that the injury was due to something else and not due to child abuse. It is essential to cultivate a healthy relationship with your child or a minor under your care, for this will ensure they feel safe to confide in you if they are bullied at school or if they had an accident.
You Were Disciplining Your Child
The law allows parents to discipline minors under their care as they see fit; they can do so by using belts or paddles while disciplining their children. However, this discipline should be reasonable and cause no bodily harm to the minor. You may face child abuse charges if your partner reports you if they find any redness on your child’s skin as a result of spanking, and this is especially true during child custody cases. Your defense attorney should handle your defense and let the jury determine if your punishment was within the disciplinary measures and have not closed the line to child abuse.
You Are A Victim Of False Allegations
Most of the time, false allegations play a significant role in child abuse cases, especially where there is domestic conflict. You may face child abuse allegations due to jealousy, anger, your partner’s desire to control your child, or your partner's desire to have the upper hand during a custody case. You can also face child abuse allegations made by the child, especially if they are against your relationship. A child might do so hoping that you will reconcile with their mother or father.
Your Child’s Injuries Are Due To An Accident
One of the elements of a child abuse charge is that you commit the offense wilfully. Therefore, you can use the accident as your legal defense if the injury to your child did not result from your wilful actions. If the minor suffered damages due to an accident, the court should not convict you of child abuse. However, the court can make an exception if you acted reckless, leading to the accident. For example, if you drive to the mall and have your child with you, and while alighting, you don't check on your child. If you slam the car’s door, thereby injuring your child's arm as they alight, you may face child abuse charges as your actions hurt your child. It doesn’t matter that it was an accident.
Other offenses you can face, along with child abuse, are mostly related to domestic violence(DV) or battery. These offenses include but are not limited to:
Child Endangerment California PC 273 (a)
Under Penal Code 273(a), California defines child endangerment as the act where you willingly subject a child to suffering, unnecessary danger, or pain. In a child endangerment case, it doesn’t matter whether the minor suffered actual physical harm or not. For this charge to be held in court, bodily injury or damage does not play a significant role. All that matters is that you exposed the minor to a situation where their health was endangered. For example, if you know that your brother is a drunk and tends to be violent while drunk but still leaves your child with him since you do not have other childcare options for the day. You can face child endangerment charges under PC 273(a) since you put your child in an environment where they could end up hurt.
Child Endangerment Penalties
California treats child endangerment as a wobbler offense, allowing the prosecution to charge it as either misdemeanor or felony.
A misdemeanor conviction could lead to one-year imprisonment in county jail, p[auyment of fines that does not exceed $6,000, or misdemeanor probation.
If the court convicts you of a felony offense. In that case, you will end up serving jail time that ranges from two up to six years in county jail, pay $6,000 in fines, formal probation, earn a strike against your record under California Three Strikes Law, and negatively affect your immigration status.
Child Neglect California PC 270
California defines child neglect as the failure to provide shelter, food, clothing, or medical care for the minor under your supervision. For the child neglect charge to hold in court, you will have willfully failed to provide primary care for the minor under your care.
Child Neglect Penalties
The law usually charges child neglect as a misdemeanor offense carrying a sentence leading up to one year of county jail imprisonment payment of $2,000 in fines. If you have a history of neglect, you will face felony charges with a conviction earning you imprisonment in the county jail, which ranges from 16 months up to three years, or payment of $2,000 in fines.
Domestic violence is a crime that revolves around the act of neglect, inflicting pain, harm, or injury on a spouse, children, or a family member. Domestic violence charges include:
- Domestic battery under PC 243(e)
- Corporal abuse under PC 273.5
- Elder abuse under PC 368
- Criminal threats under PC 422.
Domestic violence crimes are wobbler offenses, with the prosecution charging with either a misdemeanor or felony depending on the circumstances revolving around the case.
Contact A Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
Facing child abuse charges in California or any other state can trigger long-lasting effects on your life. Prosecutors are very aggressive when dealing with child abuse, and a conviction could lead to long imprisonment periods and payment of hefty fines. If you are a social worker, teacher, nurse, guidance counselor, or your work requires you to interact with children, a conviction could end a career that you have toiled hard to build. A sentence can also harm your child custody case. Apart from losing your job risking your reputation, freedom, and family, a child abuse conviction will negatively affect almost all aspects of your lifestyle.
When you or your loved one is dealing with a child abuse case, it is critical to consult an experienced Chula Vista child abuse criminal defense attorney before speaking with the local authorities. Additionally, you must ensure you do not talk with the law enforcement agents without the presence of your attorney. However, all is not lost, as with the help of experienced legal representation, you will have improved your chances of obtaining a more lenient sentence. Kindly contact us at 610-877-6894 and schedule your first free, confidential consultation with our team.