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Child Endangerment Law & Defense

PC 273a(a)

Information on the crime of child endangerment is found at penal code section 273a(a).

To be found guilty of the crime of child endangerment the district attorney must prove that the defendant willfully or recklessly placed a child in danger of immediate harm.

PC 273a(a) Law Abbr.

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 heath 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 guilty of willful child endangerment [PC 273a(a)].

For purposes of PC 273a(a) it does not matter if the child was actually harmed in order to prove guilty. The placement of the child in a situation of danger is sufficient in order to prove child endangerment. However, if the child is not harmed, the argument that the child was ever in danger may be a stronger argument.

The term likely to produce great bodily injury or death means the probability of great bodily injury or death. This or course, is factored on a case by case basis.

A child, for purposes of child endangerment, means anyone under the age of eighteen [PC 273a(a)].

The term reckless in child endangerment law means conduct that is above ordinary negligence. Recklessness requires a subjective carelessness or disregard for the safety of a child.

Sentence for PC 273a Crimes

The crime of child endangerment may be charged as a misdemeanor or as a felony. If found guilty of child endangerment as a misdemeanor the defendant could face up to one year in the county jail. If found guilty of child endangerment as a felony the defendant could face up to six years in prison.

PC 273a(a) is not considered a serious or violent crime as those terms are defined in California's Three Sentencing Law. Therefore, PC 273a(a) is not considered a strike offense.

Probation Sentence

In some willful child endangerment cases, where the defendant is found guilty (or pleads guilty or no contest) it may be possible to serve a probation sentence. A probation sentence is a period of supervision which may include a jail sentence. However, jail sentences that are made a part of a probation sentence are usually much shorter than the maximum sentence for the crime under the law and are usually served by house arrest or work release, as opposed to actual in-custody jail or prison.

In addition to possible jail or prison, if found guilty of the crime of willful child endangerment, the defendant may be ordered to attend mandatory child abuse classes, pay court fines and fees, suffer the loss of his or her child through juvenile dependency actions, be deported from the United States (for non-U.S. citizens), lose a professional license (for licensed professionals, i.e. doctors, dentists, lawyers, nurses, teaches, etc.), face restraining order, pay restitution, and more.

Common willful child endangerment situation that lead to criminal charges, include, but are not limited to the following:

  • DUI with a child in the vehicle
  • Physical fighting while holding a child
  • Allowing a child to play with a gun
  • Giving alcohol or drugs to a minor
  • Leaving a young child alone without supervision

Defenses to PC 273a(a) Crimes

Every willful child endangerment case is different and therefore every defense is different. However, common defenses to PC 273a(a) crimes include: insufficient evidence, mistake of fact, emergency defense of others, statute of limitations, coerced confessions, insanity, and more.

It is sometimes possible to argue for a reduction of the criminal charges or a dismissal of the criminal charges depending on the circumstances of the case. The facts of the case will reveal which defense works best for the situation.

If you have been charged with willful child endangerment, or PC 273a(a), contact our experienced and successful criminal defense attorneys today for a free consultation. Our attorneys have successfully handled thousands of misdemeanor and felony cases, including willful child endangerment cases. Call today!


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PC 273a(a): Child Endangerment Defense

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Crimes Related to PC 273a(a): Child Endangerment

  • Child abuse causing injury PC 273a(b)

  • Assault on a child under 8 yrs old PC 273ab(a)

  • Abusing or endangering the health of a child PC 273a(a)

  • Corporal injury to a child with a prior 273a(a) PC 273d(b)

California Child Endangerment Laws & Defense PC 273a(a)


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