In California, you do not have to purposefully hurt a child to be charged with a crime. Negligently putting a child in danger can get you in serious legal trouble. Endangering a child, even accidentally, could lead to years of prison time and tens of thousands of dollars in fines. If you’re accused of child endangerment, you need a criminal defense lawyer who will take your case as seriously as the prosecutors do. You need Justin E. Sterling.
A former Los Angeles County public defender with over two decades of criminal trial experience, Sterling provides hard-hitting and no-nonsense representation to clients accused of crimes in LA and the surrounding areas. We’re not a law firm that takes on huge numbers of cases and churns them out month after month. We intentionally keep our caseload small so that every client gets the attention they deserve. Let us help you, too.
Contact the Law Offices of Justin E. Sterling today for a free case review with a Los Angeles child endangerment attorney.
What is Child Endangerment?
Parents have relatively wide discretion when raising their children. However, if a parent or guardian puts a child in imminent danger of injury, impairment, or death, they could face child endangerment charges in California.
Child endangerment is distinct from child abuse. With child endangerment, the focus is on the potential danger to the child, not their actual physical injury. A parent or guardian can be charged with child endangerment for intentional acts, but also for negligence or a failure to act. However, there must be evidence that the child was in real danger for a parent or guardian to face child endangerment charges.
California Laws on Child Endangerment
California’s main child endangerment law is found in Section 273A of the state Penal Code. According to the text of the law, a parent or guardian has committed child endangerment if:
- They willfully cause or permit a child to be injured.
- They inflict unjustifiable pain or suffering on the child.
- They put or allow the child to be placed in a situation with a substantial risk of injury.
If any of these situations occur in circumstances where the child is likely to suffer a severe injury or death, the parent or guardian can potentially be charged with a felony. But if the circumstances are not likely to result in the child being badly injured or killed, a parent or guardian could face a misdemeanor child endangerment charge.
Finally, another law that could lead a parent or guardian to be charged with child endangerment is Section 23572 of the California Vehicle Code. An intoxicated driver could face additional DUI penalties if they had a passenger under age 14 in the car at the time of the offense.
What Does it Take to Prove Child Endangerment?
The state must establish at least one of the following elements to prove that a parent or guardian is guilty of child endangerment:
- The defendant willfully injured or inflicted mental suffering on the child.
- The defendant caused or allowed the child to suffer unjustified physical pain or mental anguish.
- The defendant had custody of the child and intentionally injured or let the child be hurt.
- The defendant had custody of the child and deliberately caused the child to be put in danger or allowed the child to be placed in a situation where the child’s health was in jeopardy.
Once the prosecution establishes at least one of those elements is met, they must also show that the defendant’s actions were criminally negligent. Negligence means the defendant acted without concern for the child’s safety or the potential consequences of their actions. If the defendant is the child’s parent, the prosecution may also have to prove the parent was not reasonably disciplining their child.
Defenses Against Child Endangerment Charges
There are several potential defenses to child endangerment charges. These include:
- The defendant did not willfully put the child in danger.
- The defendant injured the child while legally disciplining them.
- The defendant was falsely accused.
- The defendant was not caring for the child or did not have custody at the time of the alleged offense.
- The defendant was not the person who put the child in danger.
Convictions for Child Endangerment: Penalties and Consequences
California’s penalties for child endangerment vary significantly depending on whether the alleged perpetrator faces a misdemeanor or felony charge. A misdemeanor child endangerment charge carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail, a $1,000 fine, or both. A conviction could also result in probation for misdemeanor child endangerment, which could include counseling and a protective restraining order.
The penalties for felony child endangerment are much stiffer, including up to six years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. If a child is severely injured or killed due to a defendant’s intentional or negligent behavior, they could face additional charges and a longer prison sentence.
Jail time and fines are not the only potential consequences of a child endangerment charge. You could also lose custody of your child or be placed under a protective restraining order after your conviction. A conviction could also block you from obtaining certain jobs, especially any positions where you would work around children.
Contact a Child Endangerment Attorney in California
If you have been charged with child endangerment in Los Angeles, reach out to the Law Offices of Justin E. Sterling for a free consultation. We understand your life, personal relationships, and liberty are on the line. You can count on us to protect your rights and fight for the best possible outcome for your case. Call or contact us now for a free case review.