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California Penal Code 273a(a): Child Endangerment

I. California Penal Code 273a(a): Child Endangerment


Legal Definition: Any person, who willfully causes or permits any child to suffer unjustifiable physical pain, injury, or mental suffering, or willfully causes or permits that child to be placed in a situation where the child is likely to suffer great bodily injury or death, or the health of the child is endangered, is guilty of the crime of willfully endangering the health of a child

For a person to be convicted of a violation of PC 273a(a), the prosecution must prove the following:

1A. You willfully inflicted unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering on a child;

OR

1B. You willfully caused or permitted a child to suffer unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering;

OR

1C. While having care or custody of a child, you willfully caused or permitted the child’s person or health to be injured;

OR

1D. While having care or custody of a child, you willfully caused or permitted the child to be placed in a situation where the child’s person or health was endangered;

AND

2. You inflicted pain or suffering on the child/caused or permitted the child to suffer/be injured/ be endangered under circumstances or conditions likely to produce great bodily harm or death;

AND

3. You were criminally negligent when you caused or permitted the child to suffer/be injured/be endangered;

AND

4. You did not act while reasonably disciplining a child.


Legal Definition PC 273a(b): Any person who, under circumstances or conditions other than those likely to produce great bodily harm or death, willfully causes or permits any child to suffer, or inflicts thereon unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering, or having the care or custody of any child, willfully causes or permits the person or health of that child to be injured, or willfully causes or permits that child to be placed in a situation where his or her person or health may be endangered, is guilty of willfully endangering the health of a child.

For a person to be convicted of a violation of PC 273a(b), the prosecution must prove the following:

1A.You willfully inflicted unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering on a child;

OR

1B. You willfully caused or permitted a child to suffer unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering;

OR

1C. While having care or custody of a child, you willfully caused or permitted the child’s person or health to be injured;

OR

1D. While having care or custody of a child, you willfully caused or permitted the child to be placed in a situation where the child’s person or health was endangered;

AND

2. You were criminally negligent when you caused or permitted the child to suffer/be injured/be endangered;

AND

3. You did not act while reasonably disciplining a child.

II. What does this mean?


The difference between PC 273a(a) and 273a(b) is that PC 273a(a) requires the district attorney to prove a child suffered an unjustifiable injury or was likely to suffer great bodily harm. A child does not need to actually suffer great bodily harm, but it is a consideration if the child is actually, in fact, injured. You do not need to purposefully place a child in danger to be charged here. Recklessness alone is all that is required.

Criminal negligence involves more than ordinary carelessness, inattention, or mistake in judgment. A person acts with criminal negligence when:

1. He or she acts in a reckless way that is a gross departure from the way an ordinarily careful person would act in the same situation;

2. The person’s acts amount to disregard for human life or indifference to the consequences of his or her acts;

AND

3. A reasonable person would have known that acting in that way would naturally and probably result in harm to others.

Common circumstances where this can come from are being a DUI driver with your child in the car, leaving your child in a hot car, or leaving your child at home without a babysitter.

III. Penalties


PC 273a(a) is a wobbler offense. A wobbler offense is one that, based on certain mitigating or aggravating facts, can be charged as a misdemeanor offense, or a felony offense. The injury is typically a big factor of whether this case gets filed as a misdemeanor or a felony. The punishment can be drastic here, as if you are convicted of this charge as a misdemeanor, you could be sentenced to up to one year in County Jail. However, if you are convicted of this offense as a felony, you could go to State Prison for upwards of two, four, or six years. You would be required to serve 50% of that time.

Generally, you are required to be on 4 years of probation after conviction, pay fines and fees, and attend a 52-week Parenting class. Also, if this is your child, you face the problem of the Court issuing a No Contact Order where, if your child is young, you would be required to have no contact with the minor child, and be forced to leave the home if this order is issued. Dependency court can also get involved through CPS, and they could also end up taking your child if you are charged and convicted of this offense.

PC 273a(b) is only a misdemeanor offense, where you could be sentenced to County Jail for up to one year while having to attend the same classes as above and possible no-contact orders issued from the Judge.

IV. Other relevant violations under this section


1. PC 273ab

Legal Definition: Any person, having the care or custody of a child who is under eight years of age, who assaults the child by means of force that to a reasonable person would be likely to produce great bodily injury, resulting in the child’s death, you face serious offense available.

Penalties: If convicted, you could be sentenced to State Prison for 25-years to life, having to serve 85% of that time. Only after 25 years of being in Prison, can you then be considered for Parole.

If you have a previous conviction for a violation of PC 243(e)(1), then you could be sentenced to State Prison for upwards of two, three, or four years.

2. PC 273d(a)

Legal Definition: Any person who willfully inflicts upon a child any cruel or inhuman corporal punishment or an injury resulting in a traumatic condition.

Penalties: This charge is classified as a wobbler offense. If convicted of this charge as a misdemeanor, you could be sentenced to up to one year in County Jail. However, if you are convicted of this offense as a felony, you could go to State Prison for upwards of two, four, or six years. You would be required to serve 50% of that time.

V. Common Defenses


  1. Statute of Limitations
  2. Insufficient Evidence
  3. Mistake of Fact
  4. Violation of your Rights
  5. Coerced Confessions

A common defense I have used here is arguing to the Prosecutor and to the Judge that you were not actually criminally negligent but rather you were only originally negligent. You made a mistake, you had a lapse of judgment. But as explained above, you need much more than to make a simple mistake to be convicted here. This doesn’t mean you turn your head and your child wanders into traffic. Or that your phone rings and your child runs into another person’s yard where their dog attacks them. No person or juror would reasonably say that once you turned away, you somehow were not acting reasonably, and that is what caused your child injury.

VI. Call Today


The biggest issue I have found with these cases doesn’t necessarily come down to the time the person is forced to serve, but rather, the collateral affects. As stated in other sections, a child abuse case can hurt you Professionally and maybe people can and will lose their job if convicted of abusing a child. Further, you generally will be forced to be the Child Abuse Central Index (CACI) for life, making it impossible to work as a teacher or to adopt a child. Also, you could be forced to have your kid removed by Child Protective Services and have to go through years of Reunification services, just to see your child again. This charge goes way beyond criminal penalties, that is why you need someone who knows that you could lose everything, fighting for your rights. Our PC 273a Ontario criminal defense attorney has successfully defended numerous cases involving PC 273a and other serious domestic crime offenses. The initial consultation is free and we are available to answer your questions 24/7. Call the Inland Empire Criminal Defense today at 909-939-7126! Located in Ontario, CA.

Disclaimer: The legal information presented at this site should not be construed to be formal legal advice, nor should it be considered the formation of a lawyer or attorney-client relationship. If you would like to find out more information about your particular legal matter, contact our office for a consultation.

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