In the state of California parents are allowed to discipline their children with physical force. However, using excessive force is against the law and there are always 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.
Understanding the legal line between disciplining a child and child abuse can be difficult. Here at KN Law Firm we 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.
If you are facing child abuse allegations, do not hesitate to give Los Angeles Child Abuse Attorney Chris Nalchadjian a call, on the number 888 950 0011, for a whole 30 minutes Free Consultation. We always recommend to consult with a Los Angeles child abuse attorney immediately since those cases are very sensitive with potentially harsh legal consequences.
The Law of Child Abuse in California
Children’s extreme dependency and inability to defend themselves make them an easy target for violence and abuse. Child abuse laws seek to punish individuals who cause harm to children under eighteen years or place them at risk. Under California PC 273(d), child abuse is the crime you commit when you inflict corporal punishment or injury resulting in a traumatic condition. Child abuse can occur in different forms, including:
Physical abuse is any non-accidental physical harm inflicted on a child by an individual tasked with caring for or protecting them. Although your actions may be geared towards disciplining the child, they could be mistaken for abuse if the victim suffers an injury. There are many reasons caregivers and parents could cause physical harm to a child, including anger and unrealistic expectations. A physically abused child may exhibit aggressive behavior that is easily noted by other people and reported to the police.
Child emotional abuse comes from acts of maltreatment and psychological torture. This type of child abuse is often experienced by minors who have witnessed domestic violence. Although other forms of child abuse accompany emotional abuse, the court doesn’t require evidence of physical abuse to prosecute wrongdoers. Most individuals commit the crime of emotional child abuse by omission or commission. An omission is the failure to protect the child while the commission acts in a way that causes them emotional distress.
Sexual abuse of minors occurs when an adult engages in lewd conduct with a child. Children cannot consent to any form of sexual contact. Therefore, exposing a child to sexual material is a form of abuse that attracts an arrest and conviction under PC 273(d). Child sexual abuse happens in secret, and all children are vulnerable to this form of abuse.
Elements of Child Abuse
The prosecution proves your guilt under PC 273(d) by establishing the following elements:
The Victim is under the age of 18
The victim of the alleged abuse must be under the age of 18. If the child is 18 or over, a parent could still face assault and battery charges, but they would not be guilty of child abuse.
The abuse must have been inflicted willfully
The intent is very important in these cases; accidentally hitting your child with a door as you open it does not constitute abuse. Your actions against a child are considered willful if you act deliberately. The court can still find you guilty of child abuse even when you did not intend to violate the law or cause harm to the child. The only fact that must be clear is the intention to engage in the particular act.
The injury Caused a Traumatic Physical Condition
The action must result in a traumatic physical condition. Causing any form of lasting damage to your child, whether mild or severe, is enough to bring a charge.
In addition to proving the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, the prosecution can introduce prior incidences of domestic violence or child abuse in your case. Even when your prior domestic violence arrests did not end in a conviction, these allegations can be used to show your tendency to violence toward other people.
Penalties of a Child Abuse Conviction
Under PC 273(d), child abuse can be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or a felony. If facing misdemeanor charges, it could mean:
- Up to one year in jail
- Up to $6,000 in fines
- Summary probation
The potential consequences for a felony charge get substantially more severe. If convicted of a felony, you could face:
- Up to six years in prison
- Up to $6,000 in fines
- Formal probation
The time behind bars and fines can increase if you have prior convictions. Consequences can also increase if you have been charged with additional offenses or face multiple counts under the same charge.
Also keep in mind that Child Abuse falls under the broad category of domestic violence crimes. When prosecuting you under PC 273 (d), there are some related offenses that the prosecution could introduce in your case, including:
Consequences of a Child Abuse Conviction
The impact of your child abuse conviction doesn’t end when you serve your jail time and pay the fines. Some of the collateral consequences associated with this crime include:
Like in other domestic violence cases, the court wants to protect the victim. Therefore, the judge may issue a restraining order requiring you to avoid all contact with the child. You may have to move out if you live in the same household as the alleged victim.
Loss of Child Custody Rights:
Most child abuse charges and convictions arise amid separation and divorce proceedings. When dealing with child custody and visitation hearings in the family court, a conviction for child abuse could dim your chances of receiving child custody. If you already have child custody rights. The other parent of your child could seek a modification using your conviction as a justification.
Difficulty Acquiring and Retaining a Job:
Especially when child abuse is charged as a felony, the conviction will leave a permanent mark on your record. Since all convictions are public records, your potential employers can discover the conviction and use it to deny you an employment opportunity.
Difficulty Renting a House:
Many landlords base their decisions on whether to offer you a house on your criminal background. A PC 273(d) conviction may harm your chance of acquiring decent housing.
Ability to Adopt or Foster a Child:
The agency will dig into your criminal record before you become an adoptive or foster parent. The agency will not allow you to adopt a child if you have been accused of abusing a child.
A child abuse allegation, arrest, and conviction can shake your family dynamics. You cannot spend time with the child when the court takes away your custody rights and issues a restraining order.
Loss of Gun Rights:
If you face a conviction for child abuse as a felony, you risk losing your right to possess or purchase a firearm.
Defenses Strategies Against Child Abuse Charges
Although child abuse laws are strict, an arrest doesn’t mean you will face a conviction. With guidance from your lawyer, you can present the following defenses to your case:
A common defense to child abuse charges is to say that the child abuse allegations are false. False accusations of child abuse are more common than most people think, especially in dysfunctional families or between parents who are involved in a difficult child custody battle. Although sometimes difficult to prove, the best strategy to defend false child abuse charges is to aggressively counter-attack allegations and show proof of the lie or similar wrongful conduct by the accuser.
Most state child abuse laws don’t punish accidents, unless the accident was a result of recklessness or gross carelessness. When a child’s injuries are a result of an accident, a person may raise this as a defense against child abuse charges.
You Did Not Cause Injury to the Child
You will be the first suspect of child abuse allegations as a parent or guardian. If a mandated reporter reports signs of abuse in your child, you can face an arrest and criminal charges. Unfortunately, your child may have suffered abuse at another person’s hands. Although you can use this defense to avoid a child abuse charge, they could still convict you of child endangerment for failure to protect your child from harm.
You Were Disciplining the Child
Parents are generally free to discipline their children in any manner they choose, as long as the discipline is reasonable and causes no bodily injury. In certain circumstances, a parent, can raise the defense of “parental privilege” and claim that they had the right to reasonably discipline a child under their authority. However, if a child’s injuries are more serious than minor bruising as a result of the discipline, the parental privilege may not apply.
Legal Advice and Free Consultation
When facing a charge under any of above mentioned penal codes about Child Abuse in California, it is critical that you have experienced legal professionals by your side. This is especially true in cases where your custody rights are in jeopardy. At KN Law Firm, our criminal defense lawyers have handled plenty of these types of cases and know what it takes to get results.
Give us a call or fill out our online contact form to schedule your free, no-obligation case evaluation today. A member of our legal team will review your case, answer your questions, and advise you of your options.