For the most part, adults provide children with the love and care that they deserve. Because children cannot fully care for themselves, no matter how precocious they are, they are the most vulnerable to crimes of endangerment, neglect or intentional harm. The charge of child endangerment is a serious one and can have major ramifications in many areas of your life. Here's what you need to know about this offense and how you can protect yourself in a court of law.
What Is Child Endangerment?
According to the California Penal Code, child endangerment is any willful act that results in, or could result in, serious harm or the death of a child. This law is fairly broad in scope so that it can encompass a number of different scenarios, including:
- Leaving a child in a hot car
- Allowing a child easy access to weapons, harmful chemicals or other dangerous items
- Placing the child in the care of someone known to be violent or negligent
- Buying or using illegal drugs around a child
- Failing to obtain medical treatment for a sick or injured child
- And many more
This list is by no means exhaustive; there are many other acts that can result in a charge of child endangerment. It is important to note that child endangerment is not the same as child abuse. A charge of child abuse requires the child to actually be harmed, while a child endangerment charge only requires there to be a likelihood that harm will occur.
It is possible to be accused of child endangerment even if no such act has occurred. In some cases, a situation can be misconstrued by an onlooker, resulting in a false accusation. In these cases, it is unlikely that you would be prosecuted after the falsehood has been revealed.
What Is the Punishment for Child Endangerment?
California law is very strict when it comes to child endangerment. Depending on the severity of the situation and the defendant's past criminal history, among other factors, child endangerment is a charge that is known as a "wobbler." This means that the offense can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. The ruling judge will make the final decision as to the extent of the charges.
Felony Child Endangerment
If the situation in question was likely to result in serious harm or the death of the child, it will be charged as a felony. As a felony charge, the punishment is imprisonment in state prison for up to six years. This charge will also include a fine of up to $10,000.
Misdemeanor Child Endangerment
If the endangerment scenario was likely to result in only minor injuries with minimal risk of serious harm to the child, it will likely be charged as a misdemeanor. As a misdemeanor charge, the punishment is imprisonment in county jail for up to one year. This charge also includes a fine of up to $1,000. The defendant may also be eligible for probation rather than jail time at the discretion of the court.
Probation Requirements for Child Endangerment
Probation brings its own set of requirements in order for the defendant to remain in compliance. The minimum probationary period is four years. During those four years, the court will put into place protective requirements for the child to ensure that the endangerment does not happen again. This could include granting sole physical custody to the child's other parent, requiring supervision for visits with the child or even a restraining order barring the defendant from seeing the child altogether.
Throughout the probationary period, the defendant must also complete at least one year of treatment counseling for child abusers. The treatment program chosen must be approved by the court's probation department to ensure that it meets the necessary conditions for rehabilitation. The defendant must provide quarterly reports to verify their progress and continued participation in the program.
The defendant will also be required to pay in full the fees for the counseling program, in addition to any fines imposed by the court. All fees must be paid by the end of the probation period in order to have the probation lifted. For those who are unable to pay, community service may be done in lieu of paying, or the court may elect to reduce or waive the fees altogether. These decisions are made on an individual basis.
If the person in question was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time the child endangerment occurred, they will be required to abstain from those substances throughout the term of probation. In addition, the defendant will need to complete random drug and alcohol testing at any time it is requested by the probation officer. A positive test result could result in probation being revoked, forcing the defendant to be incarcerated instead.
The terms of probation are up to the presiding judge in the case. Some of the minimum requirements may be waived, or the court can choose to impose more severe restrictions. The judge will make these decisions based on the best interests of serving justice in the case.
What Are the Requirements for a Conviction?
In order for a prosecutor to obtain a conviction for child endangerment, all of the requirements of the law must be met.
The court must first prove that you acted willfully. This means that you acted consciously and with intent. This does not necessarily mean that you intended for the child in question to be harmed; to meet this requirement, it means that you intentionally put the child in the situation where harm was likely to occur, regardless of whether or not any harm actually came to the child.
Criminal negligence can also qualify you for a child endangerment conviction, even if your actions were not necessarily willful. To determine whether criminal negligence occurs, the court will assess whether any reasonable person would have acted the same way in a similar situation. The court will consider three primary factors:
- Did you show complete disregard for the safety and welfare of the child?
- Could the inherent danger in the situation reasonably be foreseen?
- Did you know the risks and proceed anyway?
To clarify, let's look at an example. On the occasions that you take a vacation, you often leave your child in the care of a babysitter. The last time your child was cared for by that person, he suffered a broken arm due to abuse by the sitter. The next time you go out of town, you hire the same babysitter because you were unable to find another one at the last minute.
In this situation, you would likely be charged with child endangerment, as you knowingly place your child in the care of someone known to be abusive. If, on the other hand, you had left your child with a different babysitter and had no reason to believe that person would harm your child, you would not be held responsible if they did turn out to be abusive as you could not have reasonably expected that to happen.
What Are the Consequences of a Conviction?
The ramifications of a child endangerment conviction go well beyond the associated jail time and fines. If you are convicted of child endangerment, you may lose your rights to see and care for your child in the future.
In addition, you will undoubtedly lose your job when you become incarcerated. Even after you are released, it will be significantly more difficult for you to find new employment, as many employers are reluctant to hire those with criminal records, even after their punishment has been completed.
If you work in childcare or other dependent care, like for the elderly or disabled, you will probably need to find a new profession. Employers in these fields will be unlikely to offer employment to someone who has been convicted of endangerment or negligence in the past.
Furthermore, your conviction can put strain on your personal relationships. Your spouse may lose trust in you, and your friends may distance themselves. You'll likely find it difficult to make new friends as well, as most people are reluctant to associate themselves with someone who endangers children.
What Are the Possible Defense Tactics?
If you truly did commit child endangerment, it is overwhelmingly likely that the truth will come out in court. However, there are some cases in which you could be charged with child endangerment when no criminal offense actually occurred. In these cases, a criminal defense attorney can help you to avoid conviction.
The Act Was Not Willful
There are many situations in which a child can be injured or killed without it being willful endangerment. For example, if you made a mistake when latching the child safety gate at the top of your stairs, resulting in the gate not being locked, you would not be held criminally responsible if your child fell down the stairs. In this situation, you did not purposefully leave the gate open; it was simply an accident. Criminal charges cannot be brought in situations like this.
The Parent Was within Their Rights to Discipline the Child
Although it has fallen out of favor with many modern parents, there are still some that utilize light spanking as a form of discipline. If you discipline your child in public, an onlooker could misinterpret the situation and believe that your child is in danger. This could result in criminal charges being brought against you.
However, as long as the spanking does not result in lasting harm to the child, it can be considered normal disciplinary action and does not qualify as a criminal offense. If, on the other hand, the child suffered severe bruising, it could be considered criminal.
The Accusation Was False
It is entirely possible for you to be accused of child endangerment when no such thing has actually occurred. For example, an upset child can exaggerate the extent to which he or she was in danger simply as a way of getting back at a parent or caregiver, particularly with older children who understand the ramifications.
A jilted former spouse may also bring charges in an attempt to obtain full custody of the child. Even vindictive neighbors can present false child endangerment accusations as retaliation for perceived offenses, like having a loud party or not caring for your yard.
In situations like these, the court will carefully evaluate all evidence presented. If it is found that the accusations against you are false, the charges against you will likely be dropped.
The Act Was Not Criminally Negligent
As discussed previously in the conviction requirements section, the court must prove that your actions were criminally negligent. If, under reasonable circumstances, your actions could not have been expected to result in harm to the child, you cannot be convicted of a crime.
Where Can I Find a Criminal Attorney Experienced with Child Endangerment Charges?
Here at Pasadena Criminal Attorney, we have been exclusively practicing criminal defense for over 25 years. This includes working with defendants accused of child endangerment or child abuse. When you choose us to represent you in court, we will work closely with you to fully understand the details of your case.
We recognize that no two cases are exactly alike, which is why we always approach each case in an individualized manner. Your defense will be uniquely tailored to your specific situation. We'll start with a free, no-obligation consultation, during which we will discuss your case with you and answer all of your questions about the next steps. Once you sign on with us, we can get down to the details of planning your defense.
Although it is impossible for us to guarantee that we can help you avoid child endangerment conviction, we can promise that we will do everything in our power to obtain a favorable result. If you have been charged with child endangerment or fear that you may be charged in the near future, get in touch with us right away.
We proudly serve clients in Pasadena, California and throughout the surrounding areas. You can reach us at 626-689-2277. We welcome you to get in touch with us today to schedule your initial consultation. The sooner you call us, the sooner we can start formulating your defense so that you can breathe easier.