Intentionally injuring a child is criminal child abuse in California. However, even if an individual did not intend to harm a child but they placed the child in a dangerous situation, this could also be considered child abuse. If you were arrested for child abuse in the East Bay, you do not have to plead guilty just because you were arrested.
California Child Abuse Law
Under California Penal Code PC §273d, any person who willfully inflicts upon a child any cruel or inhuman corporal punishment or an injury resulting in a traumatic condition is guilty of felony child abuse.
Child abuse includes inflicting unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering or permitting a child to suffer unjustifiable pain or mental suffering. Even if an individual did not actively injure the child, it is child abuse to permit a child to be injured while in their custody or under their care. This includes causing or permitting the child to be placed in a situation where the child's health is endangered.
A defendant may not be responsible for injuries that were accidental or not within the custodian's control. However, when the defendant acts in a reckless manner that creates a high risk of death or bodily harm, and a reasonable person would know that acting in that way would create such a risk, they may be held responsible for their criminal negligence.
A “child” includes any person under the age of 18. Even if a child is a day away from their 18th birthday, and the child is taller, bigger, stronger, and heavier than the defendant, they are still considered a child under the law.
The Parent's Right to Discipline
It is a defense to child abuse charges if it is within the parent's right to discipline their child. A parent is not guilty of child abuse if they used a reasonable amount of physical force or justifiable means to discipline a child. However, a parent cannot use their right to discipline as a defense if a reasonable person finds the punishment was unnecessary under the circumstances, or the physical force used was unreasonable.
For example, a parent may spank a child for disciplinary purposes that are warranted under the conditions. The spanking must be reasonable and not excessive. However, if a parent takes off their shoe and hits the child with it, that may be considered excessive and a form of child abuse.
Criminal Penalties for Child Abuse
Under California Penal Code PC §273d, child abuse can be a misdemeanor or felony offense. Any person convicted of misdemeanor child abuse can face up to 1 year in county jail and a fine of up to $6,000. The penalties for felony child abuse include imprisonment for 2, 4, or 6 years and a fine of up to $6,000.
In some cases, a second or subsequent child abuse conviction will result in an additional 4 years in prison. However, if the defendant finished serving their sentence more than 10 years prior and they have not been jailed for a felony since, the sentence enhancement will not apply.
If the defendant is granted probation for a child abuse conviction, there are a number of minimum mandatory probationary restrictions. This includes:
- A mandatory minimum probation period of 3 years;
- A criminal court protective order, sometimes called a “restraining order,” to protect the victims from further threats or violence, including stay-away conditions where necessary; and
- Successful completion of a one-year child abuser's treatment counseling program.
California Child Abuser's Treatment Counseling Program
As part of probation, the defendant may be required to attend a court-approved 52-week child abuser's treatment counseling program. The counseling program may require you to go to meetings once a week for a full year. You will also be required to pay the cost of the treatment program, with some options for financial assistance based on your income.
Child Abuser and Drug or Alcohol Abuse
If child abuse was committed while the defendant was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the defendant may be required to abstain from drugs or alcohol during their probation. This may also require drug or alcohol counseling as part of their treatment. The defendant will be subjected to random drug testing by his or her probation officer. Evidence of alcohol or drug use in violation of probation conditions may result in revoked probation and jail time.
Defenses to Child Abuse Charges
Innocent parents or caregivers may be accused of child abuse. Children end up with bumps and bruises all the time, usually from normal childhood activities. Unfortunately, these minor injuries may be reported as suspected child abuse, and in some cases, lead to criminal child abuse charges.
There may be a number of defenses to child abuse charges. Your experienced East Bay criminal defense attorney will investigate your case and identify the best available legal defenses. Some defenses to child abuse include:
- Another person was responsible for the injuries;
- Injuries were accidental;
- The child was coached to make abuse allegations;
- A parent was reasonably disciplining their child; or
- The child did not suffer an injury.
Individuals may falsely accuse someone of child abuse for a number of reasons. This includes making up false allegations because of a child custody dispute, or anger over a breakup or divorce. A former spouse or partner can make up false claims of child abuse to get back at someone or try to get custody of a child.
Talk to your attorney about possible defenses in your case. Your East Bay criminal defense attorney will identify the weaknesses in the prosecutor's side, to provide the best defense in your case.
East Bay Criminal Defense Attorney:
Lynn Gorelick has more than 30 years of criminal defense experience defending her clients facing child abuse and assault charges. She understands how to approach the individual facts of each case for the greatest chance of success, to maintain a clean record and keep her clients out of jail. Whether you are arrested in Oakland, Richmond or anywhere else in Contra Costa County or Alameda County, contact Lynn Gorelick.