Child abuse and child endangerment are serious offenses committed against children. While sometimes they are used interchangeably, the two violations are different, under different statutes, with different legal definitions and varying penalties for those convicted. If you commit a crime against a child, you could face charges for one but not both offenses. Thus, it is crucial to understand what each crime entails, how different they are, and how to defend yourself against your charges. The help of a skilled criminal attorney goes a long way in ensuring that you put up a solid defense against your charges for a favorable outcome.

Child Endangerment Vs. Child Abuse

Children are legally incapable of fending for and defending themselves. They rely on adults for provision and protection. But sometimes, adults fail in their duty of care toward children to the extent that the law has to intervene to ensure that nobody violates children’s rights. That explains why we have various laws protecting the different rights of children, with severe penalties for those found guilty of violating these laws. These laws include child endangerment laws, under PC 273a(a) and child abuse laws, under PC 273d. If you have been reported to have violated the rights of one or more children, the prosecutor will file charges against you based on the details of your case.

Child abuse and endangerment are often used interchangeably, even though they are statutes with varying legal definitions. Though they both describe crimes committed against children, they represent different situations. The law criminalizes both offenses under separate laws. Child abuse is a general offense, often charged alongside other violations against minors, including child neglect and endangerment. How the prosecutor charges your crime will depend on the details of your case.

For example, you could face child endangerment charges if you willfully permit or cause a child to suffer or sustain an injury. The statute applies to anyone who could place a child in a position where they would likely suffer harm. Thus, you can face child endangerment charges even if you do not have custody or care of the child. Your charges will also apply even if the child did not suffer harm. What matters is that you put them at unreasonable risk of suffering harm.

The Legal Definition of Child Endangerment

Child endangerment is legally defined under PC 273a(a). The law applies to anyone who places a child (individual below the age of 18) in a position where their safety and health are at risk. Child endangerment includes exposing a minor to unjustifiable suffering, danger, and pain. But this law does not require the minor to suffer physical harm. You will be charged only if there is a possibility that the child faces an unwarranted risk of injury due to your actions.

Here are examples of situations that could result in child endangerment charges:

  • If you leave a dangerous weapon within a child’s reach, for example, a sharp object, loaded gun, or any other dangerous object, the child can use it to harm themselves. In this case, parents who leave their loaded guns lying around the house, those who fail to lock their gun cabinets, and those who leave children alone and unattended at home could be guilty of child endangerment.
  • If you fail to seek medical care for an ailing child, you put that child at risk of suffering more or even losing their life.
  • If you drive while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs and have a minor in your car, you could cause an accident in which the child could be injured or lose their life.
  • Allowing your child to have a tattoo or taking your child to a tattoo parlor in violation of PC 653
  • Using controlled drugs in a child’s presence puts them at risk of abusing them.
  • Leaving your child in the care of an adult known to abuse children puts them at risk of abuse.

The Legal Definition of Child Abuse

The law against child abuse is PC 273d. This statute makes it unlawful to willfully inflict inhuman corporal punishment or injury on a minor, causing a traumatic condition.

The law carries mandatory reporting requirements for people working closely with children. You must report suspected child neglect and abuse cases if you work in a specific profession, like a nurse, school teacher, doctor, clergyperson, child-care worker, or social worker. That should be so even without compelling evidence against the suspected abuser.

Child abuse can take many forms, from slapping to continuous abuse. Any act involving physically injuring a minor can be considered abuse if it results in a traumatic or cruel condition.

Note: Corporal punishment is mainly physical, not mental or emotional.

A traumatic condition is a bodily injury or wound that could result from abuse. It can be minor or severe, resulting from the direct application of force to the child.

You must inflict the injury willfully for your actions to qualify as child abuse. A willful act is deliberate or purposeful. But you do not need to have intended to violate the law or injure the minor.

The Main Differences Between Child Abuse and Child Endangerment

Both laws punish intentional or willful harm to a minor. But, unlike abuse, child endangerment does not require the infliction of physical injury on a child. You will still face endangerment charges even if the child did not suffer any physical harm. What the prosecutor considers endangerment are your actions that put the child at risk of bodily injury.

Also, child abuse includes a traumatic condition, an element of the offense without which the prosecutor cannot prove your charges beyond a reasonable doubt. In child endangerment cases, a traumatic condition is not proof that you put a minor at risk of suffering harm. But it is an indication that the child suffered physical abuse. Any act that causes a minor to suffer injuries is considered abuse, including kicking, slapping, shaking, pushing, burning, punching, and throwing an object at a child.

Child abuse charges are mainly brought against people directly responsible for children. It could be a parent, guardian, caregiver, or teacher. On the other hand, child endangerment charges can be brought against anyone, even someone who does not have a responsibility towards the victim. Any adult who places a minor at reasonable risk of harm can face child endangerment charges, even if they have no connection or relationship with the child.

How Prosecutors Charge Child Abuse and Child Endangerment

Child abuse and child endangerment are wobbler offenses under the law. A wobbler offense is the kind of offense for which the prosecutor can file misdemeanor or felony charges against the perpetrator. The prosecutor considers the details of the case and the defendant’s criminal history to decide how to prosecute the case. A misdemeanor is a more lenient form of offense, punishable by time in jail and a court fine. A felony is serious and could result in lengthy prison time and other life-changing consequences.

Possible Penalties for a Child Endangerment Conviction

The prosecutor can file felony or misdemeanor charges against you depending on the degree of risk you put the child in. For example, if, through your actions, the child is likely to die or sustain a significant bodily injury, the prosecutor can file felony charges. If the possible harm to the child is not severe, you will face misdemeanor charges.

A misdemeanor conviction is punishable by:

  • Misdemeanor probation.
  • One year in jail.
  • $1,000 in court fines.

A felony conviction under PC 273a(a) is punishable by:

  • Felony probation.
  • Two, four, or six years in prison.

Possible Penalties for a Child Abuse Conviction

If you are a first-time offender, the prosecutor will likely file misdemeanor charges against you. A felony charge for child abuse is likely if the following are true:

  • Your actions towards the child were ruthless.
  • The injury the child sustained was severe.
  • You have at least one prior conviction in your criminal record for child abuse or other violations against children.

A misdemeanor conviction is punishable by:

  • Misdemeanor probation.
  • One year in jail.
  • $1,000 in court fines.

A felony conviction for child abuse is punishable by:

  • Felony probation.
  • Two, four, or six years in prison.
  • $6,000 in court fines.

Probation Requirements

The judge can sentence you to probation in place of jail time or in addition to prison time. If your sentence includes misdemeanor probation, you could serve your entire sentence out of jail. But you will be under the supervision of the court for the whole time you are on probation, which could be between one and three years.

During sentencing, the judge will give you some probation conditions you must adhere to throughout the probation period. Probation conditions can be strict and difficult to follow, but there are always grave penalties if you violate them. Some of the conditions you could receive after a child abuse or child endangerment conviction include:

  • Not committing any crime while on probation.
  • Participating in community service.
  • Adhering to a specific protective or restraining order.
  • Receiving treatment and participating in individual or group counseling therapy.
  • Undertaking random drug and/or alcohol tests if applicable to your case.

What To Do if Facing Child Endangerment or Child Abuse Charges

Hiring a skilled criminal defense attorney immediately is advisable if you face child endangerment or abuse charges. Your first focus should be understanding your case's details and the possible consequences. Your next priority should be to understand your options and fighting strategies that could help you obtain a favorable outcome. A skilled criminal attorney with experience handling similar cases will help you through the legal process, protect your rights, and fight alongside you until you are satisfied with your case’s outcome. Here are some of the strategies your attorney can use to help your situation:

Proving That Your Actions Were Not Willful

Child abuse and child endangerment charges require that you act willfully in committing an offense that places a child in danger or causes physical harm to a child. Your attorney can demonstrate that, although your actions put a child at risk of injury or cause them harm, they were not willful or intentional. Your actions could have been accidental or someone else’s fault. For example, you accidentally pushed your child down the stairs, and they broke their arm. Or you accidentally left the stove on while attending to your younger child, and your toddler sneaked into the kitchen, where she sustained severe injuries.

If your actions were indeed accidental, the judge would dismiss your charges.

You Are a Victim of False Allegations

Sometimes children falsely accuse their parents, guardians, or other adults of jealousy, revenge, and anger. Other times, some adults use children to lodge false accusations against people they intend to take revenge against. False allegations are standard; an experienced criminal attorney will be prepared to handle them well. Your attorney can establish the root cause of the false claims and then demonstrate your innocence in court. They can gather evidence to show that you did not commit the crime you are accused of. If that works, the judge will dismiss your charges.

Police Misconduct

You can share the information with your attorney if you believe the arresting officer violated your rights. A skilled attorney will bring that violation up in court to demonstrate police misconduct and compel the judge to dismiss your charges. For example, suppose the officer neglected to read your Miranda rights or failed to obtain a search warrant before searching your property. In that case, your attorney can compel the judge to throw out all the evidence the officer gathered against you.

Find an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Do you or someone you know face child endangerment or child abuse charges in Sacramento?

It is advisable first to understand what your charges entail and the possible repercussions if the court finds you guilty. An experienced criminal attorney can explain the legal implications of your charges, your options, and the best strategies that could result in a better outcome for your situation.

Our team of skilled and experienced criminal attorneys at Foos Gavin Law Firm is always ready to work with you. We will streamline the legal process for you, gather evidence, and fight on your behalf until you are satisfied with your case’s results. Call us at 916-779-3500 to learn more.