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Defending Child Endangerment Charges in California

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Apr 02, 2021

Review of Penal Code 273a PC Child Endangerment Charges and Defenses

California Penal Code 273a PC describes the crime of child endangerment as willfully exposing a child under 18 years old to unjustifiable pain, suffering, or danger.

Child Endangerment Charges in California - Penal Code 273a PC
You can face child endangerment charges even if they never suffered an actual physical injury.

It should be noted that you can be charged and convicted of child endangerment if you subject a child to an unreasonable risk of harm, even if they never sustained an actual injury.

A common example includes leaving a loaded firearm where the child has easy access to it. California has strict restrictions that prevent adults from putting children in danger.

Penal Code 273a and 273ab are a few of the primary California laws surrounding child endangerment and often related to domestic violence.

In general, adults who place children at the risk of physical or mental harm face jail time, fines, and even counseling.

However, the specific penalties will depend on whether the risk to the child included great bodily injury (GBI) or death.

Our Los Angeles criminal defense law firm are providing more detailed information below. 

How is PC 273a Child Endangerment Defined?

Penal Code 273a PC provides a clear cut definition for child endangerment in California:

  • “Anyone who, under conditions likely to produce great bodily harm or death, willfully causes a child to suffer, or inflicts unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering, or having care or custody of a child, causes or permits a child to be injured, or places them in a situation that endangers their health.”

In other words, under PC 273a, prosecutors can charge you with child endangerment for the following reasons:

  • putting a child in circumstances or conditions likely to produce great bodily harm or death;
  • willfully causing or permitting a child to suffer;
  • inflicting unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering on a child;
  • willfully causing or permitting any injury to a child;
  • placing a child in a situation that endangers their health.

A “great bodily injury” under California law is described as a significant or substantial injury.

Although violations of these laws typically involve parents, prosecutors can charge any adult who has the care or custody of a child with endangerment.

What is Penal Code 273ab PC Children Under Eight?

While PC 273a forbids child endangerment for children under 18, PC 273ab restricts actions against younger children.

Penal Code 273ab PC sets stricter punishments for adults who put children under eight in danger. It states:

  • “Anyone, having care or custody of a child under eight years of age, who assaults them by means of force that to a reasonable person would be likely to produce great bodily injury, resulting in the child's death.”

PC 273ab establishes that the following acts committed against children under eight are crimes in California:

  • assaulting a child by means of force that a reasonable person would likely know to produce great bodily injury resulting in the child's death or;
  • the child becoming comatose due to brain injury or suffering paralysis of a permanent nature.

PC 273ab also defines paralysis as “a major or complete loss of motor function resulting from injury to the nervous system or to a muscular mechanism.”

The related California crimes for child endangerment include Penal Code 270 PC failure to provide care, and Penal Code 273d PC child abuse.

What are the Penalties for Child Endangerment?

Those found guilty of PC 273a or PC 273ab face steep consequences. A PC 273a charge is a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the case.

It also carries up to one year in county jail and two, four, or six years in state prison.

Penalties for PC 273a Child Endangerment
PC 273a child endangerment can be filed as a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the details.


In some cases, PC 273a charges result in probation. Although this results in no jail time, probation requires any of the following conditions:

  • minimum of 48 months of probation;
  • court protective order, residence exclusion, or stay-away conditions prohibiting contact with the victim;
  • completion of a minimum of one year of a child abuser's counseling program;
  • drug and alcohol testing.

The consequences for PC 273ab violations are more severe.

In addition to being a felony, PC 273ab violations result in 25 years to life in prison when it involves a child's death.

If the child becomes paralyzed or comatose, the violation results in life in prison with the possibility of parole.

If the child suffered a great bodily injury, then the defendant could receive a sentencing enhancement. A felony conviction will result in a strike under California's three strikes law.

How to Defend Against Child Endangerment Charges

Although PC 273a and PC 273ab provide straightforward definitions of child endangerment, there are some defenses against these charges. The most common include:

  • not a willful act,
  • reasonable child discipline,
  • false accusation.

A common defense is that the defendant did not willfully cause child endangerment.

To prove these violations occurred, a prosecutor must show that the defendant intentionally injured the child or put them in harm's way.

Accidental injury or child discipline

We may be able to help you prove that the endangerment was an accident.

We may also be able to prove that the child's injuries were the result of legal corporal punishment. California permits parents to physically discipline their children.

Penal Code 273d prohibits “cruel or inhuman corporal punishment or an injury resulting in a traumatic condition.”

How to Defend Against Child Endangerment Charges
Contact our office for legal advice and to discuss a strategy for best possible outcome.

We have successfully argued that some forms of corporal punishment, such as spanking, fall within the scope of reasonable discipline.

Our defense lawyers can also help you challenge PC 273ab charges. In some instances, we might prove that a child's death or injury was not due to the defendant's force.

Perhaps we can make an argument that the results was accidental or non-intentional. A child endangerment arrest can lead to life-changing consequences.

If you are facing a California PC 273a or PC 273ab charge, you should contact our top-ranked criminal defense law firm right away.

Our team of experienced legal experts can build a defense and could lead you to the best possible outcome in your case.

Eisner Gorin LLP has earned a reputation as one of the top criminal firms in Southern California.

Call our office for a consultation at (310) 328-3776, or contact us online.

About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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