Few allegations are as potentially life-altering or painful to your reputation and life as those involving child abuse. If you are under investigation for brutality to a minor, you should not take these charges lightly and should retain a lawyer. Things will not improve independently, and a conviction’s consequences can be detrimental. The skilled legal team at Michele Ferroni Pasadena Criminal Attorney Law Firm in Pasadena can collect evidence and review every aspect of the case to develop the most suitable legal defense. Over many years of practice, we have discovered that the more proactive we are, the more successful we can achieve the most favorable case outcome.
Defining Child Abuse
According to the California PC 273d, child abuse is willfully inflicting inhuman or brutal corporal punishment or injuries that lead to a traumatic condition on a child below 18.
Corporal punishment means physical punishment instead of emotional.
A traumatic condition is a bodily injury or a wound caused by direct use of force. It does not matter whether the injury is serious or minor.
You inflict an injury willfully if you execute the act resulting in the injury deliberately. It is not a must that you intend to injure the minor or violate the law.
Some of the abusive conduct include the following (not limited to):
Shaking a baby forcefully that they suffer from injuries like brain damage.
Intentionally inflicting cigarette burns on the minor.
Throwing a minor or throwing a substance at the child.
Any conduct that harms a child can be deemed abuse, provided it is inhuman and cruel or results in a traumatic condition.
California law does not explicitly define the legal term “cruel and inhuman.” However, jury members give these words their original meaning, giving them the discretion to decide whether actions that do not lead to injuries are abusive.
Is Spanking Child Abuse?
PC 273d does not consider spanking as child abuse, provided it is not excessive and falls under reasonable discipline.
These exemptions apply to spanking with a substance like a paddle or a belt and using bare hands.
Nevertheless, the question of what is reasonable discipline is a gray area, and juries and judges have a lot of discretion in determining when and whether spanking is excessive. Also, what is deemed okay today can change in the future.
How the Prosecution Proves Violation of PC 273d
Before convicting you of the crime, the prosecution must establish the following the elements of the crime beyond any reasonable doubt:
You deliberately inflicted inhuman physical punishment or injuries on the child
Your inflicted injuries or punishment led to a traumatic physical condition
When you acted, you were not reasonably disciplining your child
Can the Prosecutor Use Previous Child Abuse Act Against You?
Previous child abuse behaviors are admissible in court regardless of whether they led to a conviction.
It is an exemption to a general rule of evidence. According to the rule, the prosecution cannot introduce previous convictions to convict a person of an offense. Typically, this evidence is deemed prejudicial.
However, in child abuse cases, prosecutors can use previous convictions to prove the accused has a propensity to apply violence.
Fortunately, the judge should first schedule a court hearing to determine whether the allegations outweigh the possibility of prejudice. During the hearing, the consider will consider the following:
Whether the evidence against the defendant will unjustifiably prejudice jury members
Whether there exists corroborating proof for the previous allegation
The amount of time between the prior conduct and your current criminal charges
Generally, the prosecution will not introduce the evidence if your alleged conduct happened more than a decade ago. In this case, evidence can only be admissible if the court determines it is in justice’s interest.
Can the Prosecutor Use Domestic Violence Acts Proof Against You?
Sometimes, the prosecution can introduce proof of a previous domestic violence act to prove child abuse allegations. The prosecution will act so if all statements are correct:
The current accusation is for child abuse against:
The minor lives with you
A child who regularly lived with you
The DV allegations were within the last five years
The domestic violence incident involved your spouse, your child’s parent, a person the accused was dating, or a live-in boyfriend/girlfriend
Before using the DV evidence, the judge should schedule a court hearing that determines whether the domestic violence is suitable. Some of the factors the judge should consider are:
Whether it shows a propensity to apply violence, or
Whether the proof is overly prejudicial
Penalties, Sentencing, and Consequences of Violating PC 273d
Penal Code Section 273d is a California wobbler. In other words, the prosecutor can charge the crime either as a felony or a misdemeanor depending on:
The case facts
Your criminal record (and sometimes proof of child abuse or DV)
Generally, a first-time child abuse allegation is a misdemeanor. The prosecutor will charge you with a felony if:
Your conduct was predominantly cruel
The minor suffered severe bodily injuries
You have a previous conviction for PC 273d or related crimes
If charged with a misdemeanor, you will face the following penalties:
A one-year county jail sentence
A maximum fine of $6,000
Sometimes the judge can sentence the accused to a summary (misdemeanor) probation.
A felony conviction attracts $6,000 in fines and a maximum of six years in jail. The judge can also impose a formal (felony) probation in place of incarceration.
The judge can enhance your jail sentence by four years if you have a previous PC 273d conviction unless:
You finished serving time for all previous convictions more than a decade ago, and
You have not been convicted of another California felony in ten years
Sometimes, the judge can impose probation instead of sentencing the defendant. The judge could impose probation irrespective of whether your alleged crime was a felony or a misdemeanor.
Nevertheless, probation has conditions like:
Reporting regularly to the probation department
At least three years of the probation
A protective/restraining order that can comprise residence exclusion or refrain from contacting the alleged victim
You should participate in a compulsory child abuser’s treatment counseling program for a year immediately upon the grant of probation. Ensure you produce enrollment documentation to the court within thirty days of enrollment, alongside your quarterly progress reports.
The court shall not lift your probation terms until you pay reasonable fees due to the child abuser’s treatment counseling program. If the court finds that you cannot pay the fees based on your changed circumstances, the court can waive or reduce the fees.
If you committed the crime while intoxicated, you should abstain from alcohol or drug use during probation and be subject to random drug testing.
The judge will revoke your probation if you fail to adhere to the conditions. Then the judge will issue a bench warrant before sending you to jail. Alternatively, the court can order new and harsher probation terms or allow a non-compliance slide.
If you abide by your probation terms, the court can grant an early termination of probation. Generally, it requires proving two years of adherence. You can make an early termination request alongside:
A petition to lower your wobbler felony charge to a California misdemeanor
An expungement petition
Is PC 273d Conviction a Strike?
If the alleged victim suffered great bodily injuries, your conviction would be a strike per the Three Strikes law.
A strike on your criminal record means you will face a double sentence for a subsequent California felony conviction. Additionally, this sentencing scheme gives accused individuals a state prison sentence of twenty-five years or even life imprisonment if they are found guilty of at least three felony crimes.
A child abuse conviction can subject a non-U.S. citizen to deportation. It can also sometimes make an immigrant inadmissible for re-entry to the U.S. and disqualified from the United States citizenship or obtaining a green card.
The minor does not need to be the immigrant’s son or daughter or a child with a special relationship with the immigrant. According to the United States Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), child abuse includes illegal conduct against a minor.
Child Abuse Legal Defenses
Fighting child abuse charges can be challenging, mainly if the prosecution’s evidence contains the minor’s testimony. Not forgetting the media’s negative representation of PC 273d defendants, it can seem almost challenging to overcome the devastating realities of child abuse allegations. While PC 273d aims to protect minors, the California justice system can vindicate any wrongfully accused individual.
Below are common legal defenses you can assert.
Child abuse false accusations are common between parents involved in child custody disputes or dysfunctional family units. Common motives of false allegations include:
Desire to control or punish a spouse or ex-spouse
Desire to gain an advantage in family law court battles
While sometimes challenging to establish, the most effective approach to defending the criminal charges is aggressively counter-attacking accusations and providing evidence of the accuser’s lie.
Something Else Other Than PC 273d Caused the Child’s Injuries
California law does not punish accidents unless the accident was due to gross carelessness or recklessness. Examples of accidents can be:
Unknowingly slamming a minor’s foot in your door
Pushing a minor on a bicycle and causing them to fall and injure their knee
When a child’s injuries are due to an accident, you can urge this as a legal defense, but courts are split as to whether to charge people who accidentally injured their children when acting negligently.
Sometimes a parent can be falsely accused of PC 273d based on a non-accidental situation like when your son/daughter fights with another in school and sustains injuries or when a minor suffers from a pre-existing disease that caused their injuries.
Right to Discipline
You can also raise the legal defense of parental privilege and urge that you discipline the child. The law allows parents to discipline children in any way, provided the discipline does not result in bodily injuries and is reasonable.
However, the parental privilege does not apply if the minor’s injury is more severe than minor bruising due to the discipline.
You Acted in Self-Defense
You can find yourself using excessive force to defend other family members from another child. It can be a teenager threatening to injure somebody else or throwing tantrums. And in self-defense, you could have unintentionally inflicted injuries.
The Defendant’s Mental State Can be Also be Used as Legal Defense
A defendant can also raise Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy as a legal defense. MSBP is a condition where a caregiver exaggerates or lies about a minor’s disease to obtain sympathy or attention. The rare defense is considered a mental health condition.
The defense requires medical or psychological evidence to be valid. Sometimes judges use circumstantial evidence to prove the defendant’s state of mind. The judge can consider:
The motive of hurting the child
Concealment of injuries
The accused absence of remorse and attempt to avoid detection
The attack’s brutality
Evidence of previous injuries that show repeated abuse
Failure to seek medical attention
The accused person’s admission
The severity of the injuries
The disparity in strength and size of the alleged victim and the defendant
Sometimes California DV, assault, and battery crimes are charged alongside or in place of California child abuse. Some of these crimes include:
PC 273a prohibits intentionally harming a child.
Unlike 273d, child endangerment does not require physical injuries or harm. You can face the charges provided you placed the minor in circumstances that can endanger their health.
Violation of child endangerment law is a California wobbler carrying the same penalties as child abuse.
PC 242 makes it illegal to willfully use violence or force on somebody else regardless of the amount of violence or force used.
You can be found guilty of PC 242 if the force you applied to the child did not:
Lead to a traumatic condition, or
Rise to the degree of inhuman punishment
Battery is charged as a California misdemeanor punishable by a six-month county jail sentence and $2,000 in fines.
PC 270 defines child neglect as the willful failure to offer care. It involves failing to provide your child with necessities like shelter, clothing, food, and medical attention.
Violating PC 270 is a California misdemeanor punishable by:
A year in county jail
$2,000 in fines
The crime becomes a California wobbler if you have a prior child neglect conviction. A felony carries up to three years in jail.
Steps to Take If California Child Protective Services is Called
No person wants to learn that the individual on their doorstep is a worker from California Child Protective Services (CPS). CPS is accountable for addressing and preventing child neglect and abuse. The mandate of CPS is to investigate child neglect and abuse allegations and remove children from an environment where they are facing neglect or abuse.
Irrespective of why a mandated reporter called CPS, the criminal charge you could face is always criminal. Child Protective Services investigation can significantly affect your relationship with your partner or ex-partner and child. An investigation can also affect your child’s custody regardless of your custody agreement.
If the California CPS approaches you, you should take steps to ensure the legal process becomes more straightforward and smoother to navigate. They include:
Do not get angry or argue with the officer. While it is a naturally confusing state to be in when California CPS comes to your workplace or home, you should remain calm. Acting defensive could hinder the case. Instead, ensure you are firm and polite as you speak with them and avoid telling them a lot of information.
Only Permit the Officer to Enter Your Home If They Have a Valid Warrant
Unless an official has a valid court warrant or order, you should not allow them into your home or workplace. If they have the warrant, ensure you see a copy before letting them in. Child Protective Services officials can intimidate or lie their way into your house. Allowing the agents at your home without a valid warrant waives your protections and rights under the 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The CPS officials are trained and qualified to find hazardous conditions in your house, like a safety code violation or leaving a kitchen knife on your counter as you answer your door. Any infraction can result in the investigator determining that the minor’s environment is dangerous and risks their well-being, particularly if the CPS official believes the child abuse accusation leveled against you.
If a Child Protective Services agent calls to schedule an appointment, ensure you put your best foot forward with a safe and clean home environment.
Ensure You Document and Record the Situation
California CPS officials should record any interrogation they have with minor children. Sometimes, the officials may claim to have lost their recorder or find an excuse not to record the conversation. In this case, remind them that the law requires them to act so.
Additionally, you can protect your rights by recording the conversation. Having the recording as backup proof might be instrumental to your criminal charges.
Do Not Tell the Official Anything and Politely Request to Speak with Your Lawyer
If the official knocks on your door impromptu, you will be unprepared. Avoid talking or giving too many details when talking with the CPS official. Avoid submitting to any interrogation even when you have nothing to conceal or are innocent. This is neither the place nor time to explain yourself.
The official is there to gather evidence of child abuse, and you do not want to self-incriminate yourself. The agent could use any answer you give against you in court. Even a seemingly innocent admission or comment can result in additional trouble. Instead, politely tell the officer that you would like to speak with your lawyer before speaking further or moving forward.
While you do not have to answer questions, you are entitled to inquire about what criminal charge you have been charged with. The law prohibits Child Protective Services agents from concealing the details from you.
Ensure the Child is Scrutinized If You Accused of Child Abuse
If the agent advises you of your child abuse accusations, ensure that the minor’s doctor gives the agent a detailed examination report to refute the allegation.
What to Do If Falsely Accused of Child Abuse
As child abuse awareness increases, more and more reports of potential abuse are being made. However, not all reports are substantiated. And sometimes, even when reports are made in good faith, thorough investigations reveal the allegations are false.
If you find yourself a victim of false accusations from your partner, ex-partner, or a mandated reporter, you should take a counter-action. Here is what you should do:
Avoid being with minors without another adult present
Make sure you resolve all custody disputes amicably to avoid the possibility of your spouse or ex-spouse using false accusations as a means of acquiring child custody or means of punishment.
Do not engage in behavior that can be considered inappropriate when dealing with minors like dirty jokes, making sexually suggestive comments, or rough-housing
Retain a skilled criminal defense lawyer immediately. The legal counsel will ensure you understand California child abuse law, review your case, collect evidence, develop legal defenses, answer your questions, update you on the case’s progress, and represent you in court.
Ensure you remain calm, relaxed, and polite when dealing with authorities handling your case. As depressive as the situation can be, losing control can be used as evidence against you.
Do not admit anything you did not do; you can be found guilty based on false confessions.
Contact a Skilled Pasadena Criminal Attorney Near Me
If you are under investigation or charged with child abuse in Pasadena, it is essential to understand your constitutional rights. You are innocent until proven guilty and have a right to legal representation. Do not consent to any law enforcement interrogations without a seasoned defense attorney present. At Michele Ferroni Pasadena Criminal Attorney Law Firm, we can stand by your side throughout the case and fight for your rights and freedom. Please contact us at 626-628-0564 to schedule your confidential and free case review and learn how we can help you.