Orange County Child Endangerment Lawyers

If you have been accused of child endangerment in Orange County, CA, your reputation and future are on the line. Your best course of action is to contact an Orange County lawyer with experience in child endangerment cases. Depending on whether you are charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, you may face thousands of dollars in fines and multiple years in prison. The right criminal defense lawyer will make a difference.

Keep in mind that child abuse, a more serious crime than child endangerment, is often charged together with child endangerment.  Child abuse will likely be charged if the child victim suffered physical or mental harm. At The Law Offices of Bryan R. Kazarian, we can help you understand the specifics of your case, prepare for court appearances, and plan your defense strategy.

What is child endangerment?

A “child”, also referred to as a minor, is legally defined as any person under the age of eighteen (18) years old. Under California Penal Code Section 273(a), you can be charged with child endangerment if you have:

  • Willfully caused or permitted a child to suffer unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering
  • Willfully caused or permitted a child in your care to be injured
  • Willfully caused or permitted a child to be placed in a dangerous situation

Note that, based on the above, you can be charged with child endangerment even if the child was not in your care. 

Child endangerment differs from child abuse in that child endangerment does not require actual physical harm to the child. Some examples of child endangerment include:

  • Driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs pursuant to CVC 23152 while having a child in the vehicle with you
  • Letting a child handle a loaded gun 
  • On a hot day, leaving a child in a vehicle with the windows closed
  • Assigning the care of a child to someone you know has abused children in the past
  • Failing to seek medical care for an injured or sick child
  • Driving under the influence while a child is in the car

California Penal Code Section 273(a) reads: Any person who, under circumstances or conditions likely to produce great bodily harm or death, willfully causes or permits any child to suffer, or inflicts thereon unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering, or having the care or custody of any child, willfully causes or permits the person or health of that child to be injured, or willfully causes or permits that child to be placed in a situation where his or her person or health is endangered, shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or in the state prison for two, four, or six years.”

Interpreting the inexact language of Section 273(a) in your specific situation may not be easy. What is “unjustifiable”? When is your conduct “willful”? What makes a situation “dangerous”? You need an experienced lawyer to help you determine whether your behavior qualifies as child endangerment. Remember that you face life-altering consequences such as loss of freedom, damage to your reputation, and potentially heartbreaking impact on your family by the removal of the child from your custody.

What must the prosecution prove for a child endangerment charge?

The prosecutor assigned to your case will decide whether to charge you with a misdemeanor or a felony. In either case, the prosecution can sustain a conviction only by proving that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. For you to be found guilty of violating Section 273(a) of the California Penal Code, the prosecution must prove:

  • At least one of the following:
    • You willfully inflicted unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering on a child
    • You willfully caused or permitted a child to suffer unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering
    • You wilfully caused or permitted a child in your care or custody to be injured
    • You wilfully caused or permitted a child in your custody to be placed in a dangerous situation
  • That you acted under circumstances that were likely to inflict great bodily injury or death to a child
  • And, that your actions were criminally negligent. Examples of criminally negligent acts includes, but are not limited to:
    • Acting recklessly and thus creating a high risk of death or substantial bodily injury to a child
    • If a reasonable person would have understood that acting as you did would likely result in harm to the child
    • You failed to act reasonably while you disciplined the child

Is child endangerment considered domestic violence in California?

Under Section 273a, child endangerment is considered a domestic violence crime. Child endangerment occurs when someone does any one or more of the following:

  • Causes or allows an injured or seriously ill child to experience some unjustified physical pain or mental suffering and refuses to seek medical treatment for the child
  • Leaves a child in the care of someone who has a known history of abuse or other similarly dangerous behavior
  • Intentionally causes or allows a child in their care to be injured
  • Leaves weapons, including guns, knives, and/or other dangerous objects in a place where a child can get them
  • Sells, traffics, or consumes drugs in the presence of a child
  • Drives a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drug

Is it discipline or child endangerment?

Under California law, corporal punishment of a child, including spanking, may be considered reasonable discipline. A person cannot be convicted of child abuse or neglect if their actions are proven to be reasonable discipline. However, no two people are likely to interpret the term “reasonable discipline” exactly the same.

To prosecute someone for child abuse or neglect, Orange County prosecutors must show criminal negligence, behavior that is aggravated, gross, or reckless, and disregards common sense. The question is, would a reasonable person have acted similarly under similar circumstances? If a reasonable person would have, there is no criminal negligence.

Because protecting our children is so important, society wants the law to err on the side of caution. However, such caution opens the door to many false accusations of child endangerment and leaves it to law enforcement to judge whether discipline has crossed the line and becomes a crime. Unfortunately, parents and other supervising adults can sometimes find themselves the victims of overzealous prosecution. 

Orange County Child Endangerment Lawyers


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During the consultation, we will help you understand your rights and the charges against you.

Penalties for child endangerment

Prosecutors can charge you with child endangerment as either a misdemeanor or a felony. In practice, the prosecution would generally charge a felony if the child suffered an injury or could have died.

Conviction of misdemeanor child endangerment can result in:

  • Six months to one year in county jail
  • Up to $1,000 in court fines
  • Modification of custody rights and potentially being served a protection order
  • Probation for at least four years
  • Counseling and other requirements based on your actions

Conviction of felony child endangerment will probably mean you will lose child custody rights and can result in more severe penalties, such as:

  • Up to two, four, or six years in state prison
  • Up to $10,000 in court fines
  • Probation for at least four years
  • A potential strike under California’s Three Strike Law 
  • Counseling and other requirements based on your actions

Common defenses for child endangerment

Because the language of Section 273(a) is so broad, you may be an innocent parent or caretaker charged with child endangerment thereby facing substantial penalties. At The Law Offices of Bryan R. Kazarian in Orange County, CA, we have found a variety of defenses that proved successful for our clients accused of child endangerment, including:

  • The child did not suffer physical or mental harm
  • You did not act willfully or with criminal negligence
  • You were falsely accused
  • You were reasonably disciplining your child
  • The child suffered an injury due to an unrelated accident or another individual’s actions

Protect yourself, your family, and your reputation

With all that you have at stake from a charge of child endangerment, you need experienced counsel determined to protect your rights. Led by a former Orange County Deputy District Attorney Bryan R. Kazarian, The Law Offices of Bryan R. Kazarian brings decades of experience aggressively defending their clients. If you have been accused or charged under California Penal Code Section 273(a) for child endangerment in Orange County, CA, call (855) 918-4253 or schedule a consultation online today.

We have offices in Santa Ana, Westminster, Newport Beach and Fullerton to serve clients with matters heard at the Central, West, Harbor, and North Justice Centers, respectively, for all of Orange County.  The lawyers at The Law Offices of Bryan R. Kazarian are here to help!  Book an online consultation to get started today.
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