December 15, 2010 By Wallin & Klarich

Children are viewed as particularly vulnerable members of society, so any perceived mistreatment or endangerment of their safety will be severely prosecuted. Under Penal Code 273a, child endangerment involves willfully causing or permitting a child to suffer physical or mental injury without taking steps to prevent it. This code section applies even if the child does not suffer any actual injury.

Child endangerment is a “wobbler” in that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. As a misdemeanor offense, the penalties may include a sentence of up to one year in county jail. If charged as a felony, a child endangerment conviction may result in a two, four, or six-year sentence in state prison.

This crime requires that you acted willfully or in a manner that was criminally negligent in causing unjustifiable pain or suffering upon a child under 18 years of age. The same penalties will apply even if you had care or control over the child (as a parent or other caretaker). You may also be found in violation of P.C. 273a if you merely place the child in a situation in which the child may become endangered.

Child endangerment laws are very broad with its definitions and the lines are often blurred when it comes to distinguishing mere discipline from abuse or criminal negligence from momentary carelessness. As a result, parents who are normally caring and attentive toward their children oftentimes face charges of child endangerment.

A violation of P.C. 273a is not the same as child abuse, which involves directly causing corporal injury upon a child. Codified under California Penal Code Section 273d, child abuse laws punish physical abuse directed at a child that results in a “traumatic condition.” This involves hitting, burning, or shaking a child that causes visible injuries. Child endangerment differs in that it involves placing the child in circumstances that could result in injury to the child.

It is impossible to expect parents to be absolutely vigilant of their children in light of the everyday realities of parenting. Unfortunately, this makes parents particularly susceptible to child endangerment charges. On occasions, parents have been charged for momentarily leaving their buckled infant in the car to return a shopping cart. They have even been charged for temporarily entrusting children to the care and custody of family or friends.

What Do I Do Now?Given the relative ease in which a parent can be wrongfully or unfairly charged with child endangerment, it is very important that you are aware of what to do if you are facing such charges:
l. Immediately contact Wallin and Klarich when you receive information you are under investigation by either children services or law enforcement
2. Do not speak to any member of law enforcement until you have retained legal counsel
3. Prepare a complete written summary of your version of events and submit them to your attorney
4. Compile a list of witnesses who can support your position
5. Prepare a social history explaining your background and submit this document to your lawyer
6. Do not discuss the facts of the case with anyone other than your attorneys.

At Wallin & Klarich, our attorneys have been in practice for over 30 years and will put their legal experience to use in defending your case. Children, by nature, are constantly attracting danger and are prone to accidents. As a parent, you should not be held criminally responsible for being unable to keep your child absolutely safe from all conceivable danger. Call us today at 888-749-0034 or visit us online at We will be there for you when you call.

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