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What Can Be Considered Child Endangerment in California?

child endangerment

Child endangerment involves placing a child at risk of physical, emotional, or mental harm due to an adult’s negligence or willful act. It’s considered a “wobbler” charge in California, meaning it can be a misdemeanor or felony crime based on the circumstances.

If you are accused of child endangerment, it’s important to understand the laws and possible consequences to defend yourself.

In this article, our California criminal defense attorneys will explain what constitutes child endangerment in California and discuss the penalties. We’ll also provide some tips on defending against charges of child endangerment and advice on what steps to take if you are charged with this crime.

What Constitutes Child Endangerment?

Endangering a child can include any action or situation that places a minor in a situation that causes or could cause mental suffering, physical pain, or injury to their health. These acts can range from leaving a child in an unsupervised environment to committing a DUI with them in the car. These laws don’t just apply to parents but to anyone with a child in their care, even temporarily.

Child Endangerment Examples

Child endangerment encompasses a wide range of behaviors that can risk a child’s well-being. Here are some common examples of child endangerment:

  • Leaving a child unattended — Leaving a young child unattended in dangerous situations, such as a busy street or near hazardous objects, can be considered child endangerment. It puts the child at risk of injury or abduction.
  • Exposing a child to substance abuse — Exposing a child to illegal substances or drugs, including using or manufacturing them in the child’s presence, can be considered child endangerment. The child may suffer physical harm, neglect, or emotional distress.
  • Allowing access to dangerous weapons or substances — If a child has access to firearms, explosives, drugs, or other hazardous substances without appropriate safety measures, it can be considered child endangerment. This includes situations where a child risks accidental injury or harm.
  • Reckless driving with a child — Engaging in reckless driving behavior, such as excessive speeding, driving under the influence, or aggressive maneuvers, with a child in the vehicle, can endanger the child’s safety. Putting a child at risk through irresponsible driving can be deemed child endangerment.

These examples illustrate various situations that can potentially endanger a child’s safety, well-being, or development. It’s essential to recognize and address child endangerment promptly to ensure the protection and welfare of children.

California Child Abandonment & Endangerment Laws

California child endangerment laws (Penal Code 273a) are very clear: inflicting physical harm or neglect on any minor child is illegal.

This law applies to parents and guardians of the child and anyone else with a legal relationship with the child. Even if you don’t physically harm a child, leaving them in dangerous situations that could result in injury or death can lead to child endangerment charges.

What Are the Penalties for Child Endangerment?

Child endangerment can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony in California. If convicted of a misdemeanor charge, you face up to one year in county jail. However, for a felony offense of willful cruelty to a child, you could spend up to a six-year sentence in a California state prison.

How Does the Court Determine Child Endangerment?

You must have acted recklessly or with criminal negligence to be convicted of endangering a minor.

To meet these standards for a child endangerment charge, the defendant must have:

  • Willfully permit or cause a child to be placed in a dangerous situation
  • Permits or causes a child to suffer unreasonable physical pain or mental suffering
  • Willfully permit or cause a child under their care to be injured

This can include failing to provide proper care for a minor, resulting in physical pain or mental suffering. Prosecutors must prove these elements beyond a reasonable doubt for someone to be convicted of endangering a minor in California.

Defending Against Child Endangerment Charges

If you’re facing a child endangerment charge, remember that you have the right to defend yourself. Your lawyer can help you explore your options and build a strong defense strategy. The aim is to reduce or dismiss your charge. They can guide and support you through each step, providing experienced legal advice.

Your lawyer will know the state and local laws, California criminal jury instructions, and how best to fight child endangerment charges. They’ll also be familiar with law enforcement officers’ tactics to build a strong defense strategy and keep you from facing a felony conviction.

Possible Defense Strategies Against Child Endangerment

If you are facing child endangerment charges, it is crucial to mount a strong defense to protect your rights and potentially mitigate the consequences.

Here are some possible defense strategies that can be employed in cases of child endangerment:

  • False Allegations — It is possible for false allegations of child endangerment to arise due to various reasons, such as personal disputes or ulterior motives.
  • Lack of Evidence — Challenging the prosecution’s evidence can be a viable defense strategy. If the evidence presented is weak, unreliable, or insufficient to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt, it can cast doubt on the allegations.
  • Parental Rights — Asserting your parental rights and demonstrating that your actions were within the bounds of reasonable parental discipline or decision-making can be a defense strategy. This defense may apply when the alleged endangerment is related to discipline methods or parental choices.
  • Contested Child Custody — False allegations of child endangerment can arise during a disputed child custody case. Proving that the accusations are being used as a strategic maneuver to gain an advantage in custody proceedings can be a valid defense strategy.

It is essential to consult with a qualified attorney with experience in child endangerment cases to determine the most appropriate defense strategy based on the specific circumstances of your case.

With a proven track record in handling child endangerment cases, our team at The Nieves Law Firm can help you build a strong defense strategy tailored to your case. We will guide you through the legal process, ensuring that your voice is heard and your side of the story is effectively presented.

Contact us today to schedule a confidential consultation.

Author Bio

Jo-Anna Nieves is the Founder and Managing Attorney of The Nieves Law Firm, an Oakland criminal defense law firm she created in 2012. With more than 11 years of experience in criminal defense, she has zealously represented clients in a wide range of legal matters, including DUIs, domestic violence, expungement, federal crimes, juvenile law, motions to vacate, sex crimes, violent crimes, and other criminal charges.

Jo-Anna received her Juris Doctor from the Florida State University College of Law and is a member of the State Bar of California. She has received numerous accolades for her work, including being named a Super Lawyer Rising Star the past 8 years, the #12 Fastest Growing Law Firm in the U.S. by Law Firm 500 in 2019, and one of the fastest growing companies in the U.S. by Inc 5000 in 2023.

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