Child Abuse (Physical Abuse on a Child)

Penal Code Section 273d

Child abuse is defined as inflicting "corporal punishment" on a child if the conduct is "cruel or inhumane" and causes any type of injury. This can occur when a parent, guardian, or child caregiver commits a violent or sexual act against a child. Reasonable physical discipline by a parent (i.e. a spanking) will not constitute a violation of this statute. However, even when the adult does not intend to cause injury or causes no injury at all, intentionally assaulting a child where there is no physical contact is still considered abusive.

Elements – What elements must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt?

In order to be found guilty of Penal Code section 273d, the prosecution must show you:


1) Willfully inflicted cruel or inhuman physical punishment or injury on a child;
Willful: An action is willful if it is done willingly or on purpose. You need not have intended to break the law, cause injury, or gain an advantage.

Child: A child is any person under 18 years old.

Cruel or inhuman: The law does not define what punishments or injuries are “cruel and inhuman. However, some examples might include burning a child, throwing something at a child, or shaking a child.

2) The punishment or injury inflicted caused the child to suffer a traumatic physical condition; AND
Traumatic Physical Condition: A traumatic physical condition is a wound or other bodily injury caused by direct application of physical force. The wound or injury can be relatively minor and need not be serious in nature. Examples include a small cut, bruises, internal bleeding, or a sprain.

Caused: Cause means that that the condition was the natural probable consequence of the punishment/injury, the condition was the natural and probable consequence of the punishment/injury and the condition would not have occurred without the punishment/injury.

3) You were not reasonably disciplining the child.
It is not illegal to reasonably discipline a child. For example, it is not unlawful for a parent to spank a child for disciplinary purposes with her hand or another object so long as the punishment is necessary and not excessive relative to the circumstances.

Penalties – What are the penalties of a Penal Code Section 273d violation?

Child abuse may be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. Whether it is charged as a misdemeanor or a felony depends on the facts of the case and your prior criminal history. A misdemeanor can result in up to one year in jail while a felony can result in two, four or six years in prison. A maximum fine of $6,000.00 can be imposed. Whatever your sentence, you will also likely be given probation. Probation may require you complete a counseling program or pay restitution. A criminal protective order may also be ordered to stay away from the child.

Under certain circumstances, if you have a prior penal code 273d conviction, you can receive a four-year sentence enhancement. It is important to note, that a felony 273d is a strike offense.

Defenses – What are the defenses to a Penal Code Section 273d violation?

Common defenses to child abuse include:


  • Injuries caused by something other than punishment or injury

    Children are very active and it is not uncommon for them to get cuts, scrapes or bruises from wrestling each other, tripping, or playing contact supports. If your physical contact with the child did not cause the injury, you have not omitted child abuse.


  • Act was not willful

    One of the elements of child abuse is that your actions were willful. If your actions were accidental, not willful, this may be a defense to the charge.


  • False accusations

    Because intimate relationships are complicated in nature, it is not uncommon for an arrest to be made based on false allegations fueled by anger, jealousy or revenge. A good criminal defense attorney is critical in ensuring that false accusations do not result in a conviction.


  • You were reasonably disciplining your child

    You have the right to reasonably discipline your child physically. Your physical punishment is lawful so long as it is both necessary and reasonable under the circumstances.


Child Abuse (Physical Abuse on a Child)

Penal Code Section 273a

Child endangerment is the charge of willfully allowing a child to experience harm or to place the health or safety of the child at risk. This can include a wide array of situations in which an adult caregiver fails to adequately protect a child or places the child in a dangerous, unhealthy, or inappropriate situation.

Child endangerment can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony and penalties vary accordingly. Those convicted of misdemeanor child endangerment can face up to one year in jail, one year probation, $1000 fine, and possible loss of parental rights. Those convicted of felony child endangerment may face one to ten years in prison, probation, fines up to $10,000, and possible loss of parental rights.

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