Facing child abuse allegations can ruin your life and result in serious legal consequences. California courts have a firm position against child abuse allegations and tend to impose severe punishments, including probation, hefty cash fines, and serving many years behind bars. For this reason, you should consider seeking legal counsel to help defend you against such allegations right away. At Restraining Order Law Firm, we offer excellent legal representation and counsel to all of our clients facing child abuse allegations in Los Angeles, CA.

Definition of Child Abuse Under California Law

The provisions of California PC 273d define child abuse as any deliberate infliction of severe or inhuman corporal punishments or any injuries that result in a distressing situation on an individual under the legal age of 18.

A distressing situation involves the direct use of force and results in physical harm, no matter how severe. On the other hand, corporal punishment involves physical punishment. Child abuse includes any inhumane or brutal act that injures a child, including kicking, punching, slapping, pushing, shaking, hitting, burning, and choking.

It is important to note that in the state of California, spanking does not qualify as child abuse unless it's excessive considering the context and it's not done to discipline the minor. The exclusions pertain to both:

  • Spanking with an object such as a paddle or a belt.
  • Spanking with one's bare hand.

Elements of Child Abuse

Penal Code 273d requires the prosecutor's office to prove several facts, generally referred to as the crime's elements, before you can be found guilty of the offense. A conviction requires that each element be demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt.

The prosecution has to demonstrate the following:

  • The defendant purposefully subjected a child to cruel/inhumane physical injury or punishment.
  • The defendant's actions caused a distressing physical state as a result of the injury or punishment imposed.
  • The accused was not disciplining the minor fairly when he/she acted.

How Prior Child Abuse Acts Could Affect Your Case

If you are facing fresh allegations of child abuse, evidence from your prior cases could be used against you. The prior findings could be used against you regardless of whether or not you were found guilty. This goes against what California's general principle of evidence stipulates.

The general rule states that an individual's prior convictions cannot be relied upon to convict them of a crime. This is due to the common view that such evidence is overly biased. However, in circumstances of child abuse, prior convictions can be presented in court as evidence that the defendant has a history of perpetrating violent crimes.

The good thing is that the court has to hold a hearing to decide whether or not the importance of these prior instances outweighs the risk of prejudice before allowing them to be included as evidence. During the hearing, the magistrate takes the following into account:

  • Whether the earlier claims have supporting evidence.
  • Whether the jury will be unduly prejudiced by the submitted evidence.
  • The time interval between the alleged acts and the current charges.

In most cases, if the previous acts occurred more than 10 years ago, the prosecutor will not be allowed to introduce the facts into evidence. If so, the evidence will be considered admissible if the court finds that it will further serve the cause of justice.

How Prior Domestic Violence Actions Can Affect A Child Abuse Case

In some circumstances, the prosecutor can admit proof of your prior domestic violence offenses to support the claims of child abuse. The prosecutor can achieve this, though, if these elements are accurate:

  • The current child abuse charges are against your minor, a minor who stays with you frequently, or any minor who used to stay with you regularly.
  • The alleged domestic abuse occurred within the last five years and involved your child's father or mother, spouse, a serious dating partner, or a boyfriend or girlfriend who used to live with you.

A hearing must be held to decide whether evidence of prior domestic violence is eligible to be used as evidence in court, much like that's the case with evidence of prior child abuse acts. The court assesses whether the evidence is overly prejudiced or likely to demonstrate an overall tendency for violence.

Penalties for Child Abuse

Since California PEN 273d is considered a wobbler crime, the prosecutor has the option to pursue either felony or misdemeanor charges. The decision is based on the specifics of the offense, the defendant's prior criminal history, and in some circumstances, proof of prior child abuse or domestic violence actions.

If this is a defendant's first violation and the situation is considered minor, he or she could be charged with a misdemeanor. However, if the defendant's actions were brutal or inhumane, the injury that he/she caused the child was severe, and the accused has a history of child abuse conviction or prior convictions for crimes that are similar to this one, he or she will likely be accused of a felony.

A misdemeanor charge for child abuse carries a potential one-year jail sentence, a $6,000 fine, and misdemeanor probation. A felony conviction carries a sentence of no more than 6 years in prison and a $6,000. As an alternative to incarceration, you could be subjected to formal probation.

Sentencing Enhancement for Prior Child Abuse Criminal Convictions

Your jail term can be extended by four more years if you have previously been found guilty of child abuse. However, if you haven't been found guilty of a felony offense in the last ten years and completed your jail sentence for the prior conviction more than 10 years ago, the enhancement won't take place.

Probation Conditions for Child Abuse

If you are found guilty of abusing a minor, you could get a probation sentence instead of serving time behind bars. The judge can sentence you to probation regardless of whether the offense is a misdemeanor or felony. However, a probationary sentence has several restrictions. A few of the requirements should be met, whereas others could be optional.

The conditions are as follows:

  • The defendant should serve at least 3 years of their probation term.
  • The victim of child abuse will receive a stay-away order, a residence exclusion, or a protective order.
  • The accused should regularly check in with their assigned probation officer.
  • If the accused was under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both when committing the child abuse offense, he or she would be subjected to random alcohol and drug testing.
  • A one-year mandatory treatment and counseling program for child abusers.

The court has the authority to revoke your probation term if you infringe any of the conditions outlined above. Once the probation has been terminated, the magistrate can issue a warrant for your arrest and sentence you to jail. Similarly, the magistrate has the authority to impose additional probation restrictions that are often more stringent than the prior ones.

Additionally, if you adhere to all of the court's probation requirements, the court could end your probation term before the stipulated period has passed. Typically, you have to demonstrate a minimum of 2 years of full compliance to have the probation period removed.

Requesting early termination of your probation is carried out alongside an appeal to erase your criminal record and a plea to reduce charges of a felony to a misdemeanor. It should be noted that under California's Three Strikes rule, a child abuse conviction that qualifies as a felony can count as one strike. This occurs if the minor sustained serious physical injuries as a result of the abuse.

If you have a strike on your criminal record, you could face double the imprisonment time for consecutive felony offenses. If you've received three strikes on your file for convictions, you get a mandatory term of at least 25 years to life imprisonment.

Defenses for Child Abuse Charges

Common defenses for child abuse allegations involve mistaken identity or police misconduct. However, your attorney could also make the following arguments in support of the defenses:

False Accusations

The false allegation argument is a popular defense in child abuse cases. Under duress or intimidation, a minor is more susceptible to being persuaded into giving false testimony. For instance, a minor living in a dysfunctional household could make up evidence of child abuse to escape the challenging situations there.

One parent can try to use a minor against the other parent during a child custody dispute and divorce by pressuring the young one to make up false accusations of abuse. If the minor does this, the parent's prospects of getting full custody improve significantly. However, if you have a skilled and dedicated lawyer on your side, you could disclose crucial information about the proceedings and show incidences of false allegations.

Other Factors Caused the Injuries

A California court can't classify injuries or harm brought on by other sources as child abuse crimes unless the purported injuries were caused by the parent's or guardian's negligence. For example, if you try to teach a child to skate, they would likely fall and get hurt. The court can't define your actions as child abuse in this situation. Given that your action was not deliberate, you can use this argument to refute the allegations.

The court takes into account the underlying cause of the injury or harm sustained before finding you guilty of abusing a child. Therefore, you could argue that the child's injuries were caused by something else other than your action. The court would consider lowering the charges or dropping the case.

Existing Illness or Medical Issue

A minor provocation could expose a child to risks if they already are suffering from an illness or medical condition. In this case, arguing that the child has a pre-existing medical issue could be the most appropriate course of action. However, you need to provide medical evidence to support this defense. Information regarding the child's health could prove crucial in helping you fight the allegations.

Disciplinary Rights

Typically, a parent or guardian has the authority to decide on a legal means of disciplining their minor when they've done something wrong. However, the approach should not endanger or severely harm the child. Child abuse charges often involve subjects such as spanking or threats. However, if the parent or guardian isn't around, the minor might be watched over by someone else. The individual could be a nanny or a teacher.

The aforementioned people could apply this defense to refute the accusation by claiming that, as the child's parents, they had the authority to correct them. Your lawyer could additionally offer evidence to back up your assertion that you had the authority to discipline the child in question.

Religious Beliefs

Without medical care, a child might suffer lasting injuries or even die. Even though the medical condition could be managed, you can utilize this argument to challenge the allegations. Your lawyer can contend that you delayed the child's medical care due to your religious beliefs. However, the specifics of the case will influence whether or not this argument is viable.

Related Crimes to Child Abuse

In most cases, child abuse charges tend to be paired with or filed alongside charges for another crime. The crimes often fit into the broad definitions of assault, battery, or domestic abuse. These are a few examples:

Child Endangerment

Exposing a minor to danger, suffering, or pain is considered illegal under California PEN 273a. Although they're usually convicted simultaneously, the offense varies from child abuse. The prosecutor needs to demonstrate the following factors for the court to convict you of endangering a child:

  • You intentionally caused the child to suffer physically or mentally.
  • You subjected or permitted a minor to endure pain or suffering.
  • You are the minor's parent or legal guardian.
  • You engaged in criminal negligence when you permitted or contributed to the minor's injuries.

The penalty, punishment, and term for child endangerment could differ depending on whether you caused the minor's death or serious injury. If you are found guilty of a misdemeanor charge, you could serve a jail sentence of not more than six months.

You're also subject to a hefty fine not exceeding one thousand dollars. Again, the judge has the power to order informal probation.

Domestic Battery

Domestic battery is defined under California PEN 243e1 as any offensive or harmful physical contact that is committed illegally and intentionally. This crime is characterized as offensive or harmful behavior when the party involved is an intimate companion.

Domestic battery offense comprises the following aspects:

  • You deliberately made offensive contact with another person. Any unwanted physical contact could serve as a California battery crime. The prosecution isn't obligated to demonstrate that your action hurt or injured the purported complainant. You can be charged with a domestic battery even if you use a foreign item to touch the victim.
  • The victim is an intimate partner of the alleged perpetrator. An intimate partner under California law can be your live-in partner, spouse, the other child's parent, or a fiancée.
  • You didn't act to protect yourself. Self-defense-related offensive contact cannot result in a domestic battery conviction. Before you can be convicted, the prosecution has to demonstrate that you weren't trying to protect yourself when you perpetrated the offense.

Being convicted for the violation of California Penal Code 243e1 results in a misdemeanor charge. If you're found guilty in this specific case, you could face the following penalties:

  • Serving not more than a year behind bars.
  • Fines not exceeding $2,000.
  • Summary probation.

When you're found guilty of California domestic battery but are spared jail time and given probation instead, the court can order you to enroll in a batterer's intervention course.

Child Neglect

It's a crime under California PEN 270 for a parent or guardian to wilfully neglect to provide shelter, clothing, food, or medical care to their child without a legal explanation. The prosecution needs to establish all elements of child neglect before you can be found guilty.

These elements include the following:

  • The victim is under the age of 18 years.
  • You failed to provide for the minor's basic needs at the time.

Child neglect is classified as a California misdemeanor. When accused of a misdemeanor, you could face a maximum of one year behind bars. Additionally, you could be subject to a hefty fine of not more than $2,000. On the other hand, the court might in rare circumstances issue felony charges. Repeat offenders will likely face felony charges.

Find a Child Abuse Lawyer Near Me

Child abuse convictions have serious repercussions that frequently extend far beyond the halls of justice. Your image and reputation could get destroyed. Consequences can last for a very long time. Safeguarding your future depends on getting the charges against you dropped or reduced. For this reason, you can consult with our team at the Restraining Order Law Firm. Our legal professionals serve the city of Los Angeles, CA. Call us now at 424-600-7691.