Child endangerment happens when an adult exposes or allows a child to be subjected to a potentially dangerous situation. Under California's PC 273a, it is unlawful to subject a child younger than 18 to unjustified pain, suffering, or danger. If a child under the age of 18 is a victim of child endangerment, they are qualified to file for a restraining order against the perpetrator.

At the Restraining Order Law Firm, we have experience handling domestic violence charges including child endangerment. Call our Los Angeles law firm today and let us help you with your case.

Child Endangerment Under California Law

California PEN 273a(i) describes the offense of misdemeanor or felony child endangerment. Child endangerment occurs when an adult purposefully causes or allows a minor to suffer unnecessary mental or physical suffering in situations where there is a high risk of serious physical injury.

Someone can also commit child endangerment when they are caring for a child and causes or allows that child to suffer injuries or knowingly exposes them to situations that jeopardize their well-being or health.

According to California PEN 273a (ii), the definition of a misdemeanor child endangerment charge is the same as that of a felony charge. Child endangerment can be a misdemeanor only or either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on if the conditions wherein a minor is left under the supervision of an adult caregiver are probable to result in serious bodily injury or death.

For child endangerment cases that are charged as a misdemeanor or felony, the situations and conditions the child is exposed to are certain to result in serious physical damage or death; but, they aren't in a misdemeanor-only case.

Elements of Child Endangerment and Their Definitions

Legal terms and definitions are crucial in determining whether a caregiver is guilty of child endangerment. You must understand the definitions of these phrases, as well as their interpretations in courts, to establish whether a given inaction, action, or collection of events qualifies as child endangerment.

The following are essential concepts related to child endangerment offenses:

  • Willfully.
  • Great bodily harm.
  • Criminal negligence.
  • Unwarranted physical or mental suffering and pain.


To act "willfully" means to act on purpose. However, to comprehend how the phrase pertains to an offense like child endangerment, it's crucial to learn how the word is used in child endangerment charges.

Unjustified Physical and Mental Suffering

When physical suffering and mental suffering are said to be unjustified, it simply indicates that they were disproportionate or not necessary under the circumstances at hand.

Criminal Negligence

Acts that go beyond what is considered to be usual carelessness and point to a lack of attention, ordinary carelessness, or errors in judgment are said to be acts of criminal negligence. Criminal negligence is defined as conduct that goes beyond what is reasonable and is extreme, severe, or reckless.

Acts of criminal negligence are most accurately defined when:

  • You behave recklessly which is significantly distinct from the actions that a typical, responsible person would have made in the same situation.
  • What you've done amounts to contempt for other people's lives or a lack of concern for the repercussions of your actions, and
  • A sensible person would have understood that doing the same thing could potentially harm someone else.

The burden of proof is with the prosecutor to convince the court that your acts are beyond what a reasonable person would have done in the particular situation.

There is no defense of religion against criminal negligence. Some parents in the past chose to offer prayers to their very ill children rather than getting them medical care. A reasonable individual, regardless of their religious convictions, will seek medical care when a child falls sick.

Great Physical Harm

Great physical harm can be defined as any serious injury. Minor injuries cannot be taken into account. Furthermore, the court will evaluate the possibility of your acts leading to the death of the child.

It is up to the jury to decide whether the injury qualifies as great bodily harm. It implies that the extent of the damage considered severe varies from case to case. However, a few of the most common injuries seen as having passed this threshold include:

  • Bone fractures.
  • Severe pain.
  • Permanent deformity.
  • Paralysis.
  • Serious injuries that need multiple sutures.
  • Spinal injuries.
  • Bodily function loss.
  • Concussions.

It is additionally important to emphasize that the minor does not necessarily need to sustain the injuries. The element that matters was that he or she was probable to sustain such injuries.

If a person acts with the specific intent to perpetrate an illegal act, that person will be considered to have done so wilfully. It doesn't matter if they planned to break the state's law or get a specific result.

For instance, when an adult slaps a kid on purpose, causing the child to sustain a significant injury, that adult could be said to have done so wilfully even though they weren't intending on committing an unlawful act, or planning for the child to be injured. 

Evidence Used in Cases of Child Endangerment

Here are a few illustrations of the supporting evidence that the prosecution will use to establish its argument.

The Physical State of the Child

Expert witnesses can testify on the child's bruises, injuries, and overall health. Prosecutors depend on the healthcare expert's evidence to explain the kid's injuries and establish an association between those injuries and child endangerment.

The State of the Child's Home

Prosecutors are concerned with the health, safety, and sanitation of where the child lives. Any scarcity of food, a lack of heating or running water, soiled or worn-out apparel, or the child's messy room will be enough to demonstrate to a jury that you are guilty.

Hospital Records

The prosecution builds its case around the presence of bruises and other injuries that occurred under questionable circumstances. The medical files present the caregiver's or parent's explanations for the harm caused as well as an indication of how concerned they are about them.

Although there wasn't enough evidence to warrant an arrest at that moment, the defendant's past will be crucial to the prosecution's efforts to show an ongoing trend of child abuse.

Statements or Confessions From the Defendant

In the course of their work, the police and prosecutors both hold out hope that they will eventually get a confession. In some instances, the defendants admit fault for the minor's illness but rationalize it as a kind of punishment.

Another potential witness is a spouse or other intimate partner. If that's the case they can claim that you uttered statements admitting that you were negligent in your treatment of the minor.

Legal Defenses in Child Endangerment Cases

When defending someone accused of child endangerment, criminal defense attorneys have many legal strategies at their disposal. The following examples are common legal defenses.

You Disciplined Your Child Reasonably

It is acceptable for parents to discipline their kids reasonably. The term "reasonable" is emphasized here. You are therefore permitted to resort to using corporal discipline on the child provided that it is administered in the right manner.

Physical punishment meted out to one's body is referred to as corporal punishment. This includes spanking a child, locking them in their room, using a paddle or belt as a form of discipline, or putting them to bed with no dinner. As a result, appropriate punishment is considered a legal defense in Penal Code 273(a) cases.

Courts determine whether what you did was reasonable by taking into account the child's size and age, the form of discipline, as well as the injuries or potential harm that would have arisen from the discipline.

No Willfulness

A defendant's guilt is established by their willfulness to commit that crime. It is the responsibility of the prosecution to establish beyond the shadow of a doubt that you acted willfully. To be convicted of the offense, you must additionally have been criminally negligent.

You won't be legally accountable under California PEN 273a if your acts were unintentional or if the child's bruises, injuries, or perceived injury were caused by an accident rather than by criminal carelessness.

You Have Been Falsely Accused

Custody fights are highly charged and could be an emotional time for everyone concerned. It's also common knowledge that romantic partners will go to great lengths to win in these cases. Some parents use coercion to get their kids to make up allegations against former partners of sexual abuse.

Caregivers are also utilized in these cases. Some make-up excuses for their abusive behavior against the child by blaming the child's guardians or parents. In addition, kids could make up charges against the accused to get even with their parents or to protect their existing standing.

Regardless of the charges that have been brought against you, know that our attorneys will work tirelessly to establish your innocence.

No Proof of Severe Bodily Harm

The allegations that the minor has experienced or could be in danger of experiencing significant physical injury should be supported by evidence. If there is none, your defense counsel will have the chance to refute this assertion and point out that there isn't enough evidence to convict you.

Mistake of Fact

False charges may not always stem from ill intent. Sometimes accusations come from kind people who are worried about the kid's safety.

Healthcare providers, coaches, social workers, educators, and members of the clergy who fail to report incidents of child abuse or endangerment to law enforcement are at risk of criminal charges. California law mandates that the people listed above (individuals who routinely deal with children) disclose any instances of child abuse.

As a result, these people could report behaviors they believe to be child endangerment for fear of being penalized if they don't.

Another Individual Put the Child in Danger

When a child is hurt, it is immediately assumed that their parents or other adult guardians have abused them. The authorities also bank on the assumption that a victim is unable to report the abuse because of the pain they are in. The guardian or parent becomes the main suspect in this scenario.

However, a minor could get hurt because of school bullying or because of a fight with other kids at school or the park. Your lawyer will look into the situation to ascertain the facts. If someone else's actions are to blame for the injuries, this defense can be used.

Penalties for a Child Endangerment Conviction

Based on the facts of the case, prosecutors assess what charges are warranted. You can face felony or misdemeanor charges. The severity of the consequences depends on if you were found guilty of a felony or a misdemeanor.

Penalties for Misdemeanors

If the child was not in imminent danger of suffering serious physical injury or death as a result of your actions, you could be found guilty of a misdemeanor. You may have to pay a $1,000 fine in addition to serving a maximum of 6 months in county jail.

Rather than imposing a prison term, a court can choose to place the offender on probation. The term informal or summary probation is used to describe this kind of probation. A probationary period for child endangerment in California lasts at least four years.

When serving your probation, you must abide by the conditions listed below:

  • Complete a rehabilitation program authorized by the court— You will be required to enroll in and undergo a child abuser's rehabilitation counseling program if you violate Penal Code 273a.
  • Obey any restraining or protective orders filed against you— You are prohibited by court order from having any contact with the minor in question. The order may have a "stay away" clause as one of its conditions. This clause forbids you from getting in touch with the minor and can be applied wherever the child stays, even though it's your house.
  • Other requirements include refraining from alcohol and drugs and submitting to any random drug tests — This clause is relevant if the accused committed the purported crime while inebriated by drugs or alcohol.

Probation Termination, Waiver, and Expungement

Before the probation is terminated, waived, or expunged, the court must determine that doing this would be in the best interests of justice. You are qualified for an early probationary termination when you adhere to all of its terms and conditions. You ALSO ought to have followed the probationary requirements for a minimum of 1 to 2 years.

Expungement is distinct from the termination of probation. During your probationary time, it is expected that you will follow the guidelines set forth for your probation. Once finished, you can approach your lawyer to request that your record be cleared.

The judge's ruling will determine how this application is resolved. Their decision to reject your request for an expungement will be influenced by whether you disregarded the terms of your probation during this time or if you didn't follow the rules and regulations.

Felony Penalties

If there was a chance that the child would have been seriously injured or killed, you can be charged with a felony. The risk isn't significant enough to trigger felony charges. The district attorney may decide to press charges for a misdemeanor.

He/she also takes into account any past charges and the specifics of your case when making a judgment. If you have any past offenses, you could potentially be charged with child endangerment as a felony.

Felony convictions include sentences of two, four, or six years in jail as well as a $10,000 fine. Instead of going to jail, you could be put on felony or formal probation for not less than 4 years. You may also petition to have the records expunged after completing the probation, provided that you satisfy the requirements indicated earlier.

Sentence Enhancements

If the child sustains serious physical harm, you will face harsher punishments than those the court imposes. Sentences for criminally endangering a child are increased if the youngster suffered serious physical harm as a direct result of the offender's carelessness.

If it is determined that you physically harmed the kid, you will also be sentenced to an extra three to six years in jail, which must be served concurrently. The length of the term depends on the type of injuries sustained as well as the current age of the victim.

If the victim dies as a result of your criminal negligence, the judge will add a four-year sentence to your existing prison term. In the event of a child's death, the district attorney may choose to press one of the charges below:

  • Second-degree murder under Penal Code 187.
  • Voluntary manslaughter under Penal Code 192(a).
  • Involuntary manslaughter under Penal Code 192(b).

Charges of child endangerment can potentially result in a strike. Your conviction could lead to if you are found guilty of a crime and the victim experienced a severe physical injury. If you have a second strike against you, the fines imposed after your conviction will be doubled. In the event of a third strike, the minimum sentence increases to twenty-five years and life imprisonment.

Find a Reputable Domestic Violence Attorney Near Me

If you are being investigated for or know someone who is a victim of child endangerment in Los Angeles, you can get in touch with the Restraining Order Law Firm. Taking immediate action is crucial and could have a big impact on how your case turns out. Allow us to review your case before taking the necessary action, like negotiating with the prosecutors to achieve the best result for your situation. For more assistance, call us at 424-600-7691 today.