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Practices - Child Abuse

California PC 273(d) - Child Abuse

California Penal Code 273(d), is known as “Corporal Injury on a Child” or more commonly “Child Abuse”. PC 273(d) Child Abuse differs from PC 273(a) Child Endangerment and other California child abuse laws in that there must be physical harm done to the child to be convicted under this law.

PC 273(d) Child Abuse is a “wobbler”. This means that the prosecutor can charge you with either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances surrounding your case and your criminal history.

Elements of the Crime – PC 273(d) Child Abuse
To be convicted of PC 273(d) Child Abuse, the prosecutor must show that you:

  1. Willfully
  2. Inflicted upon a child any cruel or unusual corporal punishment, with
  3. An injury resulting in a traumatic condition.

What is “willfully”?
“Willful” means that the act was done on purpose, or with intent. The prosecutor must prove that you intended to injure the child. Let’s say that you were in the backyard playing catch with your son or daughter. You toss the ball, the child misses it, and it hits your child in the eye, resulting in a black eye. Under these circumstances, you cannot be convicted of PC 273(d) Child Abuse, because you did not intend to injure the child.

What is “cruel or unusual corporal punishment”?
“Corporal punishment” is “physical punishment”, where a punishment results in physical contact. Spanking a child is “corporal punishment”. However, “cruel or unusual” punishment would be something unjustifiable and extreme – such as punching a child, beating them with a belt, or some other extreme physical punishment.

Throwing an object at a child, choking, shaking, shoving, or burning a child would also be “cruel or unusual corporal punishment”. Remember our example above where you are playing catch with your child in the backyard? If you intended only to play with your child and the child misses the ball and is injured, there is no “willful” infliction of injury. However, if you throw the same ball at a child in anger, intending to hit the child, the action is now considered both “willful” and “cruel or unusual corporal punishment”.

What is a “traumatic condition”?
A “traumatic condition” is any wound, internal or external, caused to a child by physical force. California Penal Code 273(d) does not provide a specific definition, so it is left for a jury to decide. It does not have to be a serious injury, however, and sometimes a prosecutor will decide whether to charge the crime as a misdemeanor or felony based upon the seriousness of the injury.

I have been charged with PC 273(d) Child Abuse in the past, but was not convicted. Can the prosecutor use that against me in a trial?
Yes. As a general rule, according to both California and Federal Rules of Evidence, prior criminal acts cannot be brought into evidence to show that you most likely committed the crime currently being tried in court. However, California law makes exceptions for PC 273(d) Child Abuse, and other domestic violence laws. If you have previously been convicted of PC 273(d) Child Abuse, or even accused of it, the court may allow the prosecution to admit that information into evidence and use it against you.

Before doing so, the court will conduct a hearing to determine whether to allow your prior conviction or allegations into evidence. The judge will consider whether the evidence will “unduly bias” a jury, how much time has passed since the prior conviction or allegations, and whether there is any evidence to support the past allegations.

The court may allow past convictions or allegations of domestic violence into evidence if it is determined that your current PC 273(d) Child Abuse charges fall under California’s “domestic violence” laws. If the child who was allegedly injured is your child, a child who lives with you, or a child who used to live with you, the crime is considered a “domestic violence” crime – even though we typically think of “domestic violence” as a crime between adults in a romantic relationship.

Furthermore, the prosecutor can seek to admit into evidence any previous conviction or allegation of domestic violence, even if it was not against a child. Let’s say that 4 years ago, you were convicted of misdemeanor PC 243(e)(1) Domestic Battery because you got in a fight with an ex-girlfriend. You have since married another woman, and that woman has a child from a previous marriage. You are now accused of PC 273(d) Child Abuse for hitting your new wife’s child who lives with you. Although the alleged victims involved are two different people, from two different relationships, and one was an adult, the prosecution can seek to admit that previous conviction into evidence in your PC 273(d) Child Abuse trial to show that you are a violent person.

How can the domestic violence attorneys from the Law Offices of Pereira & Moffatt fight my 273(d) Child Abuse charge?
Let’s take a look at some defenses that our domestic violence attorneys have successfully used in many of our other 273(d) Child Abuse cases:

  1. The act was not “willful”. If you did not act purposefully or intentionally, you cannot be guilty of 273(d) Child Abuse. Was your child harmed by accident? Remember our example of playing “catch” in the backyard. Children have accidents and hurt themselves all the time! There are many situations where our domestic violence attorneys can show the court that you did not act “willfully.”

  2. False accusations. Unfortunately, passionate family disputes, separations, and divorces can result in false accusations made out of anger or a desire for revenge. Spouses, ex-spouses, relatives, in-laws, even children can make false accusations. Often times, charges of 273(d) Child Abuse are made during divorces and custody battles. Our domestic violence attorneys are very experienced in investigating these unfortunate situations, and showing the court that accusations made are false.

  3. Parents have the right to discipline their children. Parents have the right to discipline their children, even using what we call “corporal punishment”, such as spanking. If your domestic violence attorney from the Law Offices of Pereira & Moffatt can prove to the court that your act of discipline was reasonable, you will not be convicted of 273(d) Child Abuse.

What sort of penalties am I facing if convicted of 273(d) Child Abuse?
Remember, 273(d) Child Abuse is a “wobbler”. If convicted of misdemeanor 273(d), you may face:

  1. Up to 1 year in county jail;
  2. Up to $6,000 in fines;
  3. Informal or “summary” probation for a minimum of 3 years;
  4. Successful completion of a 1-year Child Abuser’s Treatment Program;
  5. A “protective order” to protect the child from future harm, or possible a “stay away” order preventing you from having contact with the child.

If you are convicted of felony 273(d) Child Abuse, you may face:

  1. 2,4, or 6 years in a California State Prison;
  2. Up to $6,000 in fines;
  3. Formal probation for a minimum of 3 years;
  4. All of the terms and conditions of the misdemeanor conviction;
  5. An additional and consecutive sentence of 4 years in State Prison if you have a prior conviction for the same offense in the past 10 years

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