Child Endangerment


-Penal Code Section 273a(a)

“Any person who, under circumstances or conditions 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 is endangered, shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or in the state prison for two, four, or six years.”

NOTE:  If these same circumstances are true but occur in conditions that were not likely to produce harm to the child, the defendant will be charged with misdemeanor child endangerment instead of a felony.

To be convicted of Child Endangerment under Penal Code Section 273(a), the Prosecutor must prove:

  • Defendant willfully inflicted
  • “Unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering”
  • On a child;
  • Defendant caused the pain and suffering
  • As a result of criminal negligence; and;
  • The incident involving the child happened under the defendant’s watch.

In California, a common example of child endangerment is the act of a parent or caregiver leaving a young child unattended and alone in a hot car.

WOBBLER – May be charged as Felony or Misdemeanor

Child Endangerment under Penal Code Section 273(a) is a wobbler, meaning that it can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.

  • Misdemeanor: child endangerment can carry up to one year in county jail.
  • Felony: child endangerment can be punished by two years, four years, or six years in state prison.

If probation is granted, under California Penal Code Section 273a(c), child endangerment probation includes:

  • A mandatory minimum period of probation of 48 months;
  • A protective order shielding the victim from further violent acts or threats, which may include residence exclusions or stay-away conditions;
  • A minimum of one year in an approved child abuser’s treatment counseling program; and

If the offense was committed while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs

  • Defendant must abstain from such substances during probation and
  • can be subjected to random drug testing.
  • Some or all of these conditions may be dropped if found that conditions are not be in the best interests of justice.

Possible Defenses:

  • The act was unintentional.
  • The parent employed “reasonable” corporal punishment such as spanking without causing injury to the child.
  • The defendant was falsely accused, i.e.; the child or someone else made up the story.
  • The child was injured or somehow endangered, but the defendant was not culpable.

Violation of Protective Order

A protective order (sometimes called a “restraining order”) is issued to alleged victims of domestic abuse (including verbal abuse) to protect them from future harm. Protective orders generally prohibit a named individual from committing certain acts, such as contacting the protected person or going to that person’s residence or place of employment.

An intentional violation of a protective order is a misdemeanor.

Section 273.6 of the California Penal Code doubles the fine and adds a mandatory jail sentence if the violation results in a physical injury.

Other Offenses

Other California crimes, such as making criminal threats, are generally punished more harshly when the alleged victim is or was in a domestic relationship with the accused. Additional crimes that might be committed against family members, including sex offenses, elder abuse, and child abuse, are addressed in separate laws that also create the possibility of severe punishment.