The two most common Penal Code Sections associated with child abuse charges are 273a (a) and 273a (b).
Penal Code Section 273a (a):
This is the more serious of the charges and requires serious injury or death to the child or potentially serious injury or death to the child (also known as endangerment) to be alleged. The elements are:
- The Defendant willfully inflicted/permitted unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering or endangerment on a child; and
- the Defendant caused or permitted the child to suffer or be endangered under circumstances likely to produce great bodily harm or death; and
- The Defendant was criminally negligent when he caused or permitted the child to suffer/be injured/ or be endangered; and
- The Defendant did not act while reasonably disciplining a child.
This crime requires a willful intent to cause the injury or endangerment. It cannot be mere negligent there must be a specific intent to commit the act. Criminal Negligence requires reckless conduct that creates a high risk of death or great bodily harm AND the reckless conduct must be recognizable by an ordinary person as creating such a risk. So a reasonable mistake would not satisfy the elements of this crime.
The Defendant can face up to 1 year in county jail if found guilty of this offense or up to three years of state prison.
Penal Code Section 273a (b):
The elements are:
- The Defendant willfully caused or permitted a child to suffer injury or endangerment; and
- The Defendant was criminally negligent when he caused the child to be injured or endangered;
- The Defendant was not trying to reasonably discipline the child.
The Defenses to this crime are the same as for Penal Code Section 273a (a). Reasonable discipline to include physical contact can be used to discipline a child. However, the use of force must be age appropriate and not excessive. Generally, any discipline that leaves marks or bruises will probably be considered excessive force and could cause an individual to be charged with either of these offenses. These charges are also commonly used when an individual is driving a vehicle over the legal limit for alcohol with a child in the back of the car. That situation is considered endangerment of the child and is usually charged as a misdemeanor offense if the child is uninjured and there is no accident.
The Defendant can serve up to 1-year in county jail. This charge can only be a misdemeanor.