What Is Child Abuse Under California Law?

California Penal Code § 273(d) states that child abuse occurs when any person willfully inflicts cruel or inhuman corporal punishment upon a child resulting in a traumatic condition. Child abuse is a wobbler offense in California courts, so you could face misdemeanor or felony charges depending on various factors.

To truly understand this law, there’s a lot of legal jargon to unpack, and language like “cruel or inhuman” isn’t explicitly defined. This puts a lot of power in the jury’s hands when deciding on a verdict.

What Is Corporal Punishment & a Traumatic Condition?

 Corporal punishment is defined as any physical punishment. A traumatic condition is a wound or other bodily injury—no matter how minor or severe—caused by physical force. Someone could be charged with child abuse if they carry out a physical punishment that causes injury to a child.

Elements of Child Abuse

Further breaking down child abuse, the prosecution must establish the following elements to obtain a conviction:

  • You willfully inflicted physical pain on the child
  • That physical pain caused a traumatic condition (wound or bodily injury)
  • The corporal punishment was not for disciplinary purposes

You’re well within your right to physically discipline your child as long as the court doesn’t view it as excessive, cruel, or inhuman.

What About Spanking?

Spanking is a common form of physical punishment used by parents to discipline their children. This is perfectly legal under California law under the right circumstances. The spanking must be within reason.

If the court believes that the spanking was over the top and caused severe injury, they may consider it cruel or inhuman. Furthermore, the spanking must only be done for disciplinary purposes to be considered legal.

Types of Child Abuse

Here are some examples of actions that could warrant child abuse charges:

  • Hitting
  • Slapping
  • Punching
  • Kicking
  • Choking
  • Burning

What Are the Penalties for Child Abuse in California?

Since child abuse is a wobbler offense in Berkeley, you might face misdemeanor or felony charges depending on the facts of your case.

  • Misdemeanor – Up to one year in county jail; fines up to $6,000
  • Felony – Two, four, or six years in county jail

If you have a previous felony conviction within ten years, you could face an additional four years in jail.

What Makes Child Abuse a Felony?

Your charges could increase to a felony offense depending on the following:

  • Whether you had any prior convictions
  • The severity of the injuries inflicted on the alleged victim
  • Whether the court finds the act particularly cruel or excessive

Collateral Consequences

In addition to a prison sentence and steep fines, your relationship with your child could forever change if convicted of abusing them. Not only could you lose custody of your child, but you may lose any visitation rights.

Further, the child’s other parent might file a restraining order against you, preventing you from ever seeing your kid. In some cases, Child Protective Services might intervene to remove the child from what they presume to be a dangerous situation.

You Might Be Eligible for Probation

In some cases, the court may grant probation. If you receive probation, you’ll have to follow these requirements:

  • A mandatory minimum period of probation of 36 months
  • Following a protective order the court will file on behalf of the alleged victim
  • Completing at least one year of a child abuser’s treatment counseling program
  • Paying the fees associated with the treatment program
  • Refraining from drug or alcohol use if these substances were present during the offense

How to Defend Against Child Abuse Charges

Despite these harsh penalties, you have options to defend against child abuse charges. You might have lawfully disciplined your child, been falsely accused by an ex, or accidentally harmed a child. In any case, we’ll review the facts and determine the best course of action.

You Lawfully Disciplined Your Child

Many parents face child abuse charges for simply physically disciplining their children. If the physical punishment was done as a disciplinary action, you could not be convicted of child abuse. However, that is unless the physical punishment is done within reason and not viewed as cruel or inhuman. Reasonably spanking your child for getting out of line isn’t enough to put you behind bars.

You Accidentally Hurt Your Child

This defense challenges the element of intent. You must have willfully hit a child to be convicted of child abuse. If you’re out playing catch in the yard, and your child gets a black eye from being hit by a baseball, that’s not considered child abuse. Accidents happen, and we’ll make sure your defense holds up in court.

You’ve Been Falsely Accused

Often, toxic spouses do whatever they can to get a leg up in custody hearings, including accusing you of child abuse. They may claim that a bruise on your child’s arm was from you, not because the child tripped and fell. Your attorney can uncover evidence that proves the child’s injuries were caused by something else and not your doing.

Let Seth Morris Defend You Against Child Abuse Charges

Child abuse charges can wreak havoc on your reputation. Without experienced criminal defense representation, you’ll face years in prison and high fines. Hiring a Berkeley child abuse defense lawyer is your best option to dismiss the charges against you. Call Attorney Seth Morris at Morris Law today for a free consult, 510-225-9955.