The state of California allows parents to discipline their children with physical force. However, there are limits on the amount of force that can be used. Individuals who inflict excessive amounts of harm could be charged under California Penal Code Section 273(d): Child Abuse / Inflicting Physical Punishment on a Child.
Understanding the legal line between disciplining a child and child abuse can be difficult. The Simmrin Law Group can provide information about the definition of child abuse and penalties for a child abuse conviction, as well as defenses for individuals accused of abusing their children.
California’s Definition of Child Abuse
The exact nature of child abuse can be difficult to understand. Many people confuse child abuse with child endangerment, which is similar in many respects. The definition of child abuse / inflicting physical punishment on a child under PC 273(d) requires three elements to be present in order for an act to be considered child abuse.
First, the victim of the abuse must be a child as defined by law in California. That means that they must be under the age of 18 for any abuse charge to be processed under California Penal Code Section 273(d).
Second, the abuse must be willfully inflicted. That means that if you accidentally injure a child, you have not violated PC 273(d). However, it is the intention of the act rather than the injury that is important. If you intend to strike your child lightly and end up causing an injury you are still subject to potential prosecution because you willfully struck your child.
Third, the act must either be a cruel or inhumane corporal punishment or infliction of an injury that results in a traumatic physical condition. That means that the action must result in some form of physical damage to your child. A wound or other bodily injury, whether mild or severe, can be considered a traumatic physical condition.
What Does and Does Not Qualify As Child Abuse
Here are a couple of examples to show actions that would or would not qualify as child abuse in California.
A mother finds her child smoking a cigarette. She starts yelling at her daughter and then takes the cigarette from her and extinguishes it on her child’s arm, leaving a burn mark. This action would be considered child abuse under California PC Section 273(d).
A father discovers that his child has stolen some candy from the corner store. He proceeds to use his belt to spank his child a few times. This action is not considered child abuse in the state of California. However, if the spanking got out of hand and the father ended up hitting his son in the face with the belt and opening up a wound, that would be considered child abuse.
Child Abuse Penalties in Los Angeles
The court system in Los Angeles treats violations of California PC 273(d) as “wobblers.” That means that they can be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or a felony. The exact penalties will vary based on the circumstances of each case. As with all domestic violence cases, the punishment for a child abuse conviction can be very severe.
Misdemeanor Child Abuse Penalties
When facing a misdemeanor child abuse charge under California PC Section 273(d), you could be looking at:
- Fines: Up to $6,000
- Jail Time: Up to 1 Year
Felony Child Abuse Penalties
The penalties increase greatly for a felony child abuse charge. While the financial penalty remains the same, your incarceration time if convicted rises drastically. You could face:
- Fines: Up to $6,000
- Jail Time: Up to 6 Years
Additional Prison Time for Prior Convictions
Individuals with a prior conviction for child abuse will have an additional four years added to their sentence in most cases. However, if the defendant finished serving their prison term for any prior conviction more than 10 years ago and has not served time for any other felony offense in the last 10 years, they will not face any additional prison time.
There are several other charges that one might face either in addition to or instead of child abuse under PC Section 273(d). Alternate charges that are likely to be filed against a defendant include:
- Child Endangerment under California Penal Code Section 273(a)
- Child Neglect under California Penal Code Section 270
- Battery under California Penal Code Section 242
Probation and Child Abuse Convictions in California
In some cases, courts may sentence individuals to probation after a child abuse conviction. The court will set the conditions for either misdemeanor or felony probation. Individuals sentenced to child abuse probation must often:
- Obey a protective order
- Complete a child abuser’s treatment program
- Attend counseling and parenting courses
- Submit to drug testing
The probationary period usually lasts at least three years. Individuals on probation may also be forced to undergo random drug tests if they committed child abuse while using drugs or drinking alcohol.
Defenses for Child Abuse Charges
Individuals facing child abuse charges do have legal options for their defense. Working with a criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles can improve your odds of beating a charge under PC 273(d). There are several different defenses that can be used depending on the particulars of your case. The most common defenses are:
- You did not intend to harm your child
- You were reasonably punishing your child
- You were falsely accused of child abuse
You Did Not Intend to Harm Your Child
Because California Penal Code Section 273(d) requires that the act in question be willfully done, accidentally striking a child should not result in a child abuse conviction in California.
You Were Reasonably Punishing Your Child
Parents in California have the right to discipline their children. As long as you do not use unreasonable levels of force, you may be able to avoid a child abuse conviction. What is considered reasonable, however, often hinges on the viewpoint of the jury.
Currently, spanking a child with a bare hand or an object does not qualify as child abuse in California. However, this is an extremely controversial matter and is subject to change.
You Were Falsely Accused of Child Abuse
Sometimes, false charges of child abuse are brought against a parent. This often occurs during divorce proceedings, when one party is willing to try anything to secure custody of their children. False accusations are never a good idea because if the accused party can prove they did not commit the alleged abuse, the accuser can face serious penalties.
These false accusations can be easier to beat if you have the professional help of an experienced Los Angeles defense attorney on your side.
Help Handling a Child Abuse Charge in Los Angeles
Taking on charges under California Penal Code Section 273(d): Child Abuse / Inflicting Physical Punishment on a Child on your own can lead to high fines and years of time spent in prison. You can reach the Simmrin Law Group by giving us a call or by completing our online contact form.
Make sure you have professional help on your side by taking advantage of a free, no-obligation case evaluation with one of our defense lawyers.