If you have been accused of child abuse or child endangerment, it is important that you speak to an experienced San Diego child endangerment attorney as soon as possible. Your attorney could be able to have the charges dropped, or plea bargain, on your behalf, for less serious charges. Attorney Vikas Bajaj has over 15 years experience successfully defending people accused of child abuse or neglect. Call today for a free consultation.
False Allegations of Child Abuse
While no one would ever want true abuse or endangerment of a child to go unreported or unpunished, many false child abuse allegations stem from bitter divorces, child custody battles and other types of family problems. In reality, children have accidents. They play hard, bump into things, wrestle with one another, and play contact sports, all of which can result in bruises, cuts and scrapes which might be mistaken for child abuse.
Yet because therapists, child care workers, psychiatrists and teachers are mandated reporters when child abuse or endangerment is suspected, well-meaning people can end up erroneously reporting suspected abuse. Parents do have a right to discipline their children, including the right to use “reasonable” corporal punishment (physical punishment, such as spanking, inflicted on the body).
If someone has made false allegations against you, do not take it lightly. Your first step should be to reach out to an experienced criminal defense attorney who can look at your case before things get out of hand.
Defining Child Abuse and Child Endangerment
Under California Penal Code 11164, child abuse occurs when a parent, guardian or caretaker willfully harms a child, either emotionally, sexually, or physically (other than when the act was accidental).
Under California Penal Code 273(a), child endangerment—which is generally considered to be a crime of domestic violence—includes placing a child or allowing the child to be placed in a dangerous situation, without attempting to protect the child from those dangers. Some examples of child endangerment could include leaving a child with a caregiver you know has a history of abusive behavior, failing to seek medical attention for a sick child, or leaving dangerous weapons within a child’s reach.
Penalties for Child Abuse and Child Endangerment
Child endangerment is considered a “wobbler” crime, meaning the prosecutor can charge you with a misdemeanor or a felony. Your prior criminal history, the nature of your offense, and other factors will determine how your crime of endangerment is charged. If you are convicted of misdemeanor child endangerment, you could face the following penalties:
- A maximum sentence of one year in a county jail;
- Maximum fines up to $1,000;
- Probation for a minimum of 4 years;
- Mandated attendance and completion of a one-year treatment program for child abusers, and
- An order prohibiting any contact between you and the child you were accused of endangering, or a protective order to protect the child from future harm.
If you are convicted of felony child endangerment, you could face from 2-6 years in a California state prison, as much as $10,000 in fines, a minimum of four years of formal probation, a “strike” on your record under the California “Three Strikes” law, mandated completion of a one-year treatment program for child abusers, and possibly a protective order or an order which prohibits contact between you and the child you were accused of endangering. If the child suffered serious bodily injury, you could be sentenced to an additional 3-6 years in a California state prison.
Physical abuse of a child could include such things as slapping the child in the face with enough force to leave a mark, leaving bruises on a child, or beating a child with an object, such as a belt or wooden spoon. Under California Penal Code 273(d), child abuse is a wobbler offense, meaning you could be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on whether you have a past criminal history, and the facts surrounding your case. For misdemeanor child abuse you could face up to a year in a California jail, however for a felony child abuse conviction, you could be sentenced for two, four or six years in a California prison. If you have a prior conviction for child abuse, you could be sentenced to additional time in prison.
Additionally, for a misdemeanor child abuse conviction, you could face fines of up to $6,000, a minimum probation term of three years, a protective order to keep you away from the alleged victim, random drug testing in some instances, and the requirement of completing a one-year child abuser’s treatment counseling program. For a felony child abuse conviction, you could face these same penalties, however your probation time could be increased, and your counseling program could last longer than one year. If you were convicted of California child abuse on a prior occasion, your sentence for the current charges could increase by four years.
Potential Defenses to Your San Diego Child Abuse/Endangerment Charges
Although your specific defense will depend on the circumstances surrounding your charges, your San Diego criminal defense attorney may use one of the following defenses on your behalf:
- Actual innocence—false allegations based on a family or domestic conflict, or another person’s anger, jealousy, or desire for revenge;
- The alleged act was not purposeful or intentional;
- You were legitimately disciplining your child, and that discipline does not rise to the level of child abuse or child endangerment.
Speak with a San Diego Child Endangerment Attorney Today
If you find yourself in the unenviable position of being charged with child abuse or child endangerment, contact a knowledgeable San Diego criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. The consequences for a conviction of child abuse or child endangerment can be severe and far-reaching, therefore the sooner you have an attorney in your corner, the greater likelihood your rights will be fully protected, and you will have a better outcome following the charges.