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Willful Child Endangerment Law & Defense

PC 273a(a) and 273a(b)

Information on the crime of willful child endangerment is found at penal code sections 273a(a) and 273a(b).

PC 273a(a) Law (Abbr.)

PC 273a(a): Any person, who willfully causes or permits any child to suffer unjustifiable physical pain, injury, or mental suffering, or willfully causes or permits that child to be placed in a situation where the child is likely to suffer great bodily injury or death, or the health of the child is endangered, is guilty of the crime of willfully endangering the health of a child  [PC 273a(a) Abbr.].

PC 273a(b): Any person who, under circumstances or conditions other than those 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 may be endangered, is guilty of willfully endangering the health of a child [PC 273a(b)].

Note: The difference between PC 273a(b) and 273a(b) is that PC 273a(a) requires the district attorney to prove a child suffered unjustifiable injury or was likely to suffer great bodily harm (GBI). PC 273a(b) requires the district attorney to prove that a child suffered ordinary injury, or was likely to suffer ordinary injury.

No Specific Intent Required: Willful child endangerment is not a specific intent crime. This means that the defendant does not need to purposefully place a child in danger to be charged with a PC 273a crime. Recklessness is all that is required.

Actual Injury not Required: Willful child endangerment means that the defendant either unjustifiably injured a child, or placed the child in a situation that was likely to produce harm. It does not matter if the child was actually harmed in order to prove willful child endangerment.

PC 273a Definitions

Likely in the phrase "likely to produce great bodily injury or death," means highly probable.

Great bodily injury (GBI) means injury that is more than ordinary or substantial injury, including death, broken bones, injuries that leave scars, and concussions.

Child or Minor means anyone under the age of 18.

Recklessness is conduct greater than ordinary negligence. Recklessness is subjective carelessness or disregard for the safety of a child.

Common willful child endangerment situations:

  • DUI with a child in the vehicle
  • Leaving a child in a car
  • Assaulting a person that is holding a baby 
  • Allowing a child to play with a loaded firearm
  • Allowing minors to have alcohol or drugs
  • Leaving a baby without a babysitter
  • Leave a young child unattended in a pool
  • Unreasonable corporal punishment

Sentence for PC 273a Crimes

PC 273a(a): Child abuse, or willful child endangerment, that is likely to cause great bodily injury (GBI), may be charged as a misdemeanor or as a felony. If found guilty of misdemeanor PC 273a(a), the defendant could face up to one year in the county jail. If found guilty of felony PC 237a(a) the defendant could face up to six years in prison.

PC 273a(b): Child abuse, or willful child endangerment, that is likely to cause ordinary injury, is charged as a misdemeanor. If found guilty of misdemeanor PC 273a(b), the defendant may face up to six months in the county jail.

Good Conduct Credits: If the defendant is convicted of PC 273a(a) or 273a(b), and is sentenced to jail or prison (no grant of probation), the defendant may earn up to fifty percent (50%) credit off his or her sentence for good behavior while in custody (absent prior strike convictions).

Three Strikes Law: Felony PC 273a(a) is not a strike crime, under California's Three Strike's Law.  

Probation Sentence: A probation sentence is a period of supervision instead of an actual jail or prison sentence. Probation sentences have terms of probation that must be followed in order to avoid further punishment, including actual jail or prison. Probation for felony PC 273a(a) convictions is considered formal, which means that the defendant is monitored by probation officer. Probation for misdemeanor PC 273a(a) or 273a(b) convictions is considered informal or summary, which means the defendant is not supervised by a probation officer. Probation sentences are available in some willful child endangerment cases depending on the facts of the case and the defendant's criminal history.

If the defendant is granted probation the court will also require the following minimum conditions:

  • A mandatory minimum period of probation of 48 months (PC 273a(c)(1)).
  • A criminal protective order (CPO) protecting the victim from further acts of violence or threats, and, if appropriate, residence exclusion or stay-away conditions (PC 273(c)(2)).
  • Successful completion of no less than one year of a child abuser’s treatment counseling program, with quarterly progress reports, approved by the probation department. (PC 273(c)(3)(A).
  • If the offense was committed while the defendant was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the defendant will be ordered to abstain from the use of drugs or alcohol during the period of probation (PC 273a(c)(4)).

Note: Probation sentences may include a "Jail" sentence, but jail sentences that are ordered as a term of probation are always less than a year and are usually served on house arrest or work release. (See Jail Alternatives). Also, the court may waive any of the above minimum conditions of probation upon a finding that the condition would not be in the best interests of justice.

Suspended Prison Sentence: The crime of felony willful child endangerment (PC 273a(a)) does not qualify for a suspended prison sentences (aka joint suspension), or a split prison sentence. This means that if the defendant is found guilty of PC 273a(a) as a felony, and the defendant is not granted a probation sentence, the defendant must serve an actual prison sentence, and no part of that sentence may be served out of prison (PC 1170(h)).

Immigration Issues: Non U.S. citizens convicted of willful child endangerment may be deported or denied reentry into the United States. Whether or not a defendant will be deported depends largely on the immigrant's criminal history, the sentence received, the recital of facts in the record of conviction, and any applicable waivers

Note: PC 273a(a) and 273a(b) may be considered crimes involving moral turpitude if child abuse is found. For more information, see immigration consequences.

Professional Licensing Concerns: Licensed professionals, including doctors, lawyers, teachers, nurses, therapists, etc., who are charged with child abuse or willfully endangering the health of a child, may be disciplined by their respective state licensing agencies (Bar, Board, Commission, etc.). Discipline may include suspension or revocation of a professional license, probation, or other punishment. For more information on professional licensing consequences for criminal conduct and administrative defenses, see licensing issues.

Collateral Punishment: In addition to the punishments listed above, if found guilty of willful child endangerment, the defendant may suffer any of the following: fines and fees, loss of rights to child custody or visitation, loss of the right to own or possess firearms, restitution to victims, and more.

Defenses to PC 273a(a) & 273a(b)

Common defenses to PC 273a(a) crimes include: insufficient evidence, mistake of fact, emergency, statute of limitations, coerced confessions, illegal search and seizure, insanity, severe intoxication, self defense, and more.

For more information on defenses, including defenses to the crimes of child abuse, or willful child endangerment (PC 273a(a), or 273a(b)), please visit defenses.

If you or a loved one is accused of child abuse, or willful child endangerment (PC 273a(a) and 273a(b) crimes, contact our experienced criminal defense attorneys today for a free consultation. Our criminal attorneys are always available to explain your rights and defense options. Call today!


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Related Crimes

  • PC 273a(b): Child abuse causing injury

  • PC 273ab: Assault on a child under 8 causing death

  • PC 273a(a): Abusing a child

  • PC 273d(a): Cruel or inhuman corporal punishment
  • PC 271: Abandon a child under 14
  • PC 271a: Failure to provide for a child under 14
  • PC 272(a)(1): Contribute to a minor's delinquency

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