Child Endangerment

Child Endangerment - California Penal Code Section 273a

Actual Case

Sally was the step-mother of a seven year old girl, Tania.  Bill was Tania’s dad.  There was a conflictual relationship between Bill and his former spouse.  One time after Tania had spent time with Bill and Sally Tania’s mother noticed that there were some marks on the back of Tania’s legs.  Tania told her mother that Sally had hit her with a hanger.  Tania reported the marks to the police as possible child abuse.

As it turned out, Tania was a very defiant child and often was disobeying reasonable requests of Sally and Bill.  Sally showed a lot of restraint, but one time she did start to give Tania a spanking with her open hand.  During the spanking Tania started struggling and as a result the spanking left marks on her legs. 

I gathered a number of letters of support for Sally.  I had Sally enter parenting classes.  I gathered school information for Tania demonstrating that she got in a lot of trouble in school. 

As a result I was able to convince the District Attorney to offer a diversion program to Sally.  After a year the charges against Sally were dismissed.  As a result of this disposition Sally was able to keep her job as a school bus driver.


P.C. 273a, or child endangerment occurs when someone willfully causes or permits a child to be placed in a dangerous situation, to be injured, or to suffer unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering.

To prove that the defendant is guilty of child endangerment under P.C. 273a, the prosecution must prove the following facts or elements:

  • The defendant (a) willfully inflicted unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering on a child, or (b) willfully caused or permitted a child to suffer unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering, or (c) caused or permitted a child in their care or custody to be injured, or (d) caused or permitted a child in their care or custody to be placed in a dangerous situation; and
  • The defendant was criminally negligent (if accused of (b), (c) or (d)); and
  • The defendant's actions were not part of reasonable discipline of their child.

If the charge is to be a felony then the prosecutor must prove that the defendant acted under circumstances that were likely to produce great bodily harm or death.


Here as some examples of child endangerment:

Leaving a child with a caretaker likely to injure the child.

Letting a child play with dangerous object like guns, knives, and matches/lighters.


P.C. 273a child endangerment is a wobbler and can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony at the discretion of the prosecutor, depending on the circumstances of the offense and the defendant's criminal history.

A misdemeanor can result in the following penalties:

  • 4 years Summary probation;
  • Up to one year in county jail; and/or
  • A fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000.)

A felony can result in the following penalties:

  • 5 years Formal probation;
  • Two (2), four (4) or six (6) years in state prison; and/or
  • A fine of up to 10 thousand dollars ($10,000.)

Probation conditions will likely include a criminal court protective order and if appropriate a residence exclusion and/or stay away order to protect the victim, completion of a minimum one-year child abuser's treatment counseling program, and random drug tests if the defendant was under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol at the time of the alleged offense.    


False accusation:

When child endangerment is suspected, police are often quick to act and make an arrest before thoroughly investigating. Additionally, on occasion ex-spouses have been known to make false allegations due to anger or desire for revenge.

The act was not willful:

If the defendant did not intentionally inflict an injury or place the child in a dangerous situation or was unaware that the child could possibly end up in danger than they can't be convicted of child endangerment.

Parent's right to discipline:

If the defendant was using reasonable corporal punishment to discipline their child they can't be found guilty of child endangerment.


I have been practicing criminal defense for over 35 years.  I have represented people on hundreds of child endangerment cases and have a proven record of success.  I will begin by combing the police reports for any helpful information and inconsistencies and then will meet with you to discuss your side of the story and to determine possible defenses.  I employ a team of investigators, legal researchers, and expert witnesses that will help present the strongest possible case.  Often, in their attempt to find someone responsible for a crime the police will arrest the wrong person. Sometimes the police will take an innocent situation and charge someone with a crime.  I served for over sixteen years as a Judicial Officer of the Sacramento Superior Court and have established key relationships that can be used to greatly benefit my clients.  I will aggressively fight for you to get you the best possible result on your assault case including taking the case to trial if needed.  Call Foos Gavin Law Firm at (916) 779-3500 or email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for a no-cost initial consultation.

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