California Law regards children highly and strives to ensure that these individuals are always protected. Inflicting corporal punishment or injury on a child could attract arrest and criminal charges for child abuse. An accusation of child abuse is a case you do want to be associated with. This is because of the severe legal consequences accompanying a conviction for this offense, including a jail sentence and hefty fines. When a child abuse case goes to trial, the court often favors the minor.

Additionally, a conviction for child abuse may affect your reputation and affect your personal and professional life negatives. Therefore, when you or your loved one faces child abuse charges, it is crucial to navigating the case with guidance from a competent criminal attorney. At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we work hard to ensure that all our clients who require legal advice and representation in Riverside, CA, achieve the desired outcome in their criminal cases.

Overview of Child Abuse in California

In California, parents and guardians have a right to raise and discipline their children the way they fit. However, laws regarding child abuse aim at protecting and ensuring the safety of the children. Under California Penal Code 273d, child abuse is defined as the act of inflicting physical or emotional injury on an individual below eighteen years. The scope of child abuse is broad, and it ranges from physical to sexual and physiological abuse. 

Also, failure to take care of your child and provide for their basic needs is considered abuse. Child abuse charges are often severe, and a conviction could have life-changing consequences. Therefore, seeking legal guidance from a competent criminal defense attorney is paramount when you face these charges. Some of the acts that are considered child abuse include:

  • Slapping
  • Punching
  • Hitting
  • Choking 
  • Burning
  • Shaking

In California, spanking is not considered an act of child abuse as long as the force is not excessive and is for disciplinary purposes. When you face child abuse charges for spanking a child too hard, the jury has the discretion to determine if your actions will be considered child abuse.

Elements of California Penal Code 273d

Before you have a conviction for child abuse under CPC 273d, the prosecution must establish the following factors beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. You willfully inflicted cruel physical punishment on a minor. A willful; act is done intentionally. Even if you did not plan to cause injury to the child, you could be convicted for child abuse if the prosecutor proves that you acted willfully engaged in an act that injured a child. Also, the prosecutor must prove that the alleged victim was under eighteen years at the time you acted.
  2. The punishment you inflicted on the child caused a traumatic physical injury on the child. Even though cruel conduct is not defined explicitly under CPC 273d, the prosecutor can establish some acts that resulted in traumatic injury to the child. If your actions did not result in any physical, emotional, or sexual harm, you could not be convicted for this offense.
  3. When you were not reasonably disciplining the child. Parents and guardians have a right to discipline their children. However, the force used to instill discipline should be reasonable for the situation. Therefore, before the prosecutor proves your guilt under this statute, it should be clear that your actions were not aimed at disciplining the child or you used excessive force.

Common Types of Child Abuse

There are different areas in which a child can undergo abuse, including school and home. For example, a physical wound is not required to establish that a child was abused. However, teachers at school, licensed community child care centers, and social workers are mandated to report instances of child abuse. Failure to report child abuse instances could prompt a conviction under CPC 11166(b). Some of the common forms of child abuse for which you can be arrested and convicted include:

Physical Abuse                                              

Physical abuse on a child is injuries that result from physical aggression towards a minor. If you act in a manner that causes damage to a child, you can face a conviction for child abuse even when the act was unintended. For example, a physical injury on a child could result from beating, slapping, or severe punishment. Physical punishment uses excessive force to instill discipline in the child, but the force is out of control and causes injury to the child.

Since physical child abuse can result in disability, death, or severe trauma, these charges could land you in serious trouble with the law. Signs of child abuse that can be used as evidence in your case include:

  • Fear
  • Unexplainable burns, bruises, or cuts on the body
  • Resistance to go home or interact with you

Child Sexual Abuse

Child sexual abuse is defined as any sexual engagement or contact between the child and an adult where the adult acts to satisfy a sexual urge. Any individual below eighteen years cannot legally consent to a sexual act. Therefore any of the following forms of conduct could attract child abuse charges:

  • Possession of child pornography
  • Forcing a child to touch your genitals
  • Fondling a minor
  • Spying on a child in private places such as a bathroom or changing area 

California law is stringent on sex offenders, especially when a victim is a child. Therefore, when a person makes a report of alleged child abuse, the child protective services will investigate to prove that:

  • The alleged victim is below eighteen years
  • The actions are likely to cause mental or physical harm to the child
  • The perpetrator of the act is an adult

Regardless of the minors' reactions during the sexual act, adults are responsible for not engaging in these acts with children. Some of the signs that could indicate sexual abuse include:

  • Avoiding anything that relates to sexuality
  • Being in denial of their gender
  • Fear of associating with people from the abuser's gender

Emotional Abuse

Even though a child's emotional state may be difficult to interpret, you can be arrested and charged with child abuse for engaging in acts that cause emotional stress for the child. Emotional abuse may result from several actions, including verbal insults, belittling the child, or even acting indifferent. Sometimes, emotional child abuse could be a result of sexual or physical abuse.

 You can inflict emotional abuse through acts or words. However, the failure of a parent or guardian to take care of their child and show them the love they require could lead to emotional abuse. Some common signs of emotional abuse include:

  • A decline in academic performance
  • Low self-esteem and anxiety
  • Lack of interest in partaking in social activities
  • Desire to inflict physical injury on themselves

The effects of emotional abuse on a child could be detrimental to their esteem and ability to relate with others. Therefore, an accusation of committing emotional child abuse can result in serious legal consequences.

Threats Directed to a Minor

 Even though there are no scars or pain inflicted from these acts, threatening to cause injury to a child is considered a violation of CPC 273d on child abuse. You can make threats verbally or by using a weapon. As a result, the child could suffer emotional and psychological distress and affect their ability to express themselves. Often, threats towards a child occur as an aftermath of other crimes. This is aimed at preventing the child from reporting another crime.

Child Neglect

Neglect is a commonly experienced form of child abuse. Guardians or parents have the responsibility to care for minors and provide for their daily needs. Failure to perform your duty towards your child could prompt charges for child abuse. However, a single act of neglect could not be enough to convict you for this crime. Instead, there must be a pattern of activities indicating neglect to the child.

Penalties for Child Abuse in California

Child abuse is a wobbler. This crime can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. In addition, California criminal law is stringent on repeat offenders. Therefore, if you have a prior conviction for a charge related to child abuse, you may face more severe consequences for the crime.

The court could exclude evidence from our trial for child abuse. This is to avoid prejudice during the trial that could lead to a wrongful conviction. However, this provision will not apply if you have a prior conviction for child abuse. If you have a previous conviction for child abuse, the record can be significant in your current case. The record could affect sentencing even when you did not face a conviction in the past.

A record will affect your case if the inhuman acts involve similar circumstances or are directed towards the same child. Before the judge allows a prosecutor to introduce your criminal history in a child abuse case, the court will hold a hearing to determine whether this information will prejudice the case. In determining this factor, the court may consider the amount of time passed between the prior crime and the current charges. If the conviction is more than ten years old, this factor may not be used to enhance your penalties after a conviction.

A first child abuse offense is a misdemeanor. A conviction for child abuse as a misdemeanor in California attracts a jail sentence of up to one year and a fine not exceeding $6,000. Sometimes, the court may sentence you to misdemeanor probation as an alternative to jail time. In this case, you will serve part of your sentence out of jail.

If your actions were cruel or caused severe bodily injury to the minor, you could face felony charges. A conviction for a felony child abuse is punishable by a jail sentence of two to six years. Also, you may be required to pay a fine of up to $6,000. If you are a repeat offender, your conviction is increased by four years. Also, felony child abuse causing serious injury may be a strike under California Three Strikes Law.

In addition to the legal consequences you face from violating PC 273, it could significantly impact your personal and professional life. For example, if you are convicted of child abuse, you will likely spend some time in jail. This will enter your criminal record, which is often public and can be accessed by potential employers. In addition, if you sexually abuse a child, you will be required to register as a sex offender, which can be detrimental to your image in society.

 Most allegations of child abuse arise during messy divorces and child custody battles. If you are convicted for this offense, your ability to gain custody or visitation rights for your children could be affected. Therefore, seeking legal guidance is crucial if you face these charges. Sometimes, child abuse allegations may cause your child to be removed from the home and placed with a relative or foster home even when you are not going through a divorce.

Probation for Child Abuse                    

Whether you are convicted for a misdemeanor or a felony, you can be sentenced to probation for child abuse. However, probation comes with strict terms and conditions that you are required to obey. Some of the probation conditions for violating CPC 273d include:

  • Regular check-ins with your probation officer will be necessary. A probation officer is responsible for ensuring that you follow all the court orders while on probation. Therefore, you should always report your progress to them. If you violate one or more conditions, the court may revoke the probation and impose the original jail sentence.
  • The court could issue a protective order for the alleged victim. When serving probation for child abuse, the court may issue a protective order. Also, the judge may order residence exclusion to protect the alleged victim.
  • If you were under the influence of alcohol or drugs when you committed the crime, the court would require you to undergo random drug tests.
  • Mandatory enrollment to a child abuser program for up one year

If you comply with all the probation terms for up to two years, the court could grant you an early termination of probation. However, a request for early termination should accompany a petition to reduce your wobbler charges from a felony to a misdemeanor or a petition to expunge the conviction.

Legal Defenses Against Child Abuse Charges

When charges for child abuse are brought to court, the judge will often favor the minor. If a child gives their testimony during the trial, the court may be sympathetic and take their word for yours. Fortunately, not all child abuse cases end in a conviction. Due to the weight carried by these cases, it is always crucial to seek legal guidance and representation to help you in building a solid defense. With the help of your attorney, you can fight to have your charges dismissed or the charges reduced. Also, if some of the evidence was collected through forced confessions or illegal search, you can seek to exclude this information in your trial. Some of the common defense strategies you can explore for your case include:

False Allegations

Child abuse cases are some of the most common cases that arise from false accusations. Children are easy to manipulate and can easily say what they are told to please a person they trust. Also, some people often threaten children to give a false account of events. Mostly child abuse cases result from child custody battles. The other parent could falsely accuse you of child abuse to increase their chances of receiving custody of the child.

In addition to the attempt to gain the upper hand in a custody battle, these factors that could motivate an individual case to bring false allegations for child abuse include:

  • Jealousy
  • Anger 
  • Revenge or desire to punish the other person
  • A desire to control others

When using this defense in your case, your attorney can help you uncover crucial details of the offense and prove that the alleged crime did not occur.

  • Explain Away the Source of Injuries Detected on the Child

Injuries resulting from accidents are not treated as child abuse unless your reckless or intentional acts caused the injuries. Even though some individuals like teachers are entitled to reporting instances of child abuse, they could report child injuries as child abuse without investigating their source. If you face child abuse charges for injuries from other sources, you can raise this defense in the case.

Some children have pre-existing injuries that predispose them to harm when slightly provoked. You can present this defense if you have proof of the child’s condition and how it could be mistaken for abuse.

Child abuse cases are not only based on a child’s injuries. Also, one instance of injury on a child is not enough to prompt a conviction under CPC 273d. If you can present sufficient proof that the injuries on the child resulted from another instance other than abuse, your charges could be dismissed.

  • Religious Beliefs

There are situations that a child could suffer severe injuries or death due to the failure to seek medical attention. Even though failing to take a child to a hospital is considered neglect, your attorney can argue that you acted due to your religious beliefs. Although California law respects people’s beliefs, the relevance of this defense will only apply to specific circumstances.

  • Parental Disciplinary Rights

As a parent or guardian, you have a right to choose the right disciplinary measure to take for your children as long as you do not cause harm to them. Since spanking is often subject to child abuse cases, you can argue your right to discipline the child for this case. However, before you face a conviction for child abuse, the prosecutor must prove that you used excessive force that accused severe injury to the child. Therefore, if there is no injury present on the child’s body, you cannot be convicted for disciplining the child.

Offenses Related to Child Abuse

Child abuse is one of the common charges in the scope of child abuse. The following are some of the offenses that could be charged alongside or instead of child abuse in California:

  • Child Endangerment

California Penal Code 273a defines child endangerment as willfully permitting a child to suffer or inflicting unjustifiable physical or mental pain on the minor. Although endangering a child’s welfare may not always amount to child abuse, California law is strict when protecting children. Such an act will prompt an arrest and charges for child endangerment. 

Violation of PC 273a is a wobbler. As a felony, a conviction for this crime is punishable by up to six years in prison. A misdemeanor conviction, on the other hand, attracts a one-year jail sentence.

  • Child Neglect

Child neglect is a pattern of failure to provide or take care of a child’s basic needs. Child abuse and neglect are different in that child abuse cover a wide range of cruel acts against children, while neglect only involves failing to perform your duty of care towards the child. In most cases, child neglect is a misdemeanor punishable by one jail sentence and a $2,000 fine.

Fight Child Abuse Charges with Guidance from a Criminal Attorney Near Me

Cases of child abuse and neglect are complicated for all the parties involved. However, if you face charges for child abuse under California Penal Code 273d, you should not take the situation lightly. A conviction under this statute will attract serious consequences that may cause you to spend a significant amount of time in prison and pay hefty fines. Also, if you are a parent facing child abuse charges, your ability to gain custody and visitation rights for your children may be impacted. 

Facing charges for child abuse does not always mean that you will be convicted. Some of these allegations result from sour divorces and child custody battles and may not have ground. Therefore, seeking legal guidance and representation for you or a loved one caught up in a child abuse case is crucial. With the guidance of a knowledgeable criminal attorney from Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, you can build a strong defense and fight the charges. Contact us today at 951-946-6366  from any location in Riverside, CA, and allow us to guide you through the challenging situation.