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California Child Endangerment Laws

January 12, 2021

When Can I Be Charged With Child Endangerment?

California Child Endangerment Laws

In California, there are a variety of crimes that can stem from how you treat a child, one of which is child endangerment. Endangerment laws prohibit putting a child in a situation that unnecessarily exposes them to risks to their physical or mental well-being. The actual danger created by unreasonably placing a child in a risky environment will determine the severity of your punishment.

Child Endangerment Does Not Require Actual Harm

A charge of child endangerment can be brought against anyone who has a child in their care, not necessarily only the parents of a child. For the purpose of California’s laws, a child can be defined as any minor under the age of 18.

However, whether a situation is dangerous will vary based on the actual child’s age and capacity. For example, a typical 16-year-old is not unreasonably endangered by leaving a stove burner on while doing another task. Conversely, a four-year-old may be put into unnecessary peril by this action.

To secure a child endangerment conviction in California, a prosecutor must prove that the defendant did any of the following:

  • Caused a minor to be placed in a dangerous situation
  • Permitted a minor’s injury
  • Allowed a minor to suffer unjustified harm or anguish

Notice that actual harm does not need to occur for a prosecutor to gain a conviction. Merely placing a child in a situation that could lead to danger is punishable as child endangerment.

Child Endangerment, Child Neglect, and Child Abuse

On the spectrum of California’s child treatment laws, child endangerment falls between child neglect and child abuse. All three crimes punish different conduct.

Criminal child neglect occurs when a parent or caretaker purposely does not provide a child with something they need, like food or shelter. Punishing a child by not feeding them or making them stand outside in a rainstorm are examples of child neglect.

Child abuse punishes the actual striking of a child. The striking, such as a slap or use of a belt, must impose a cruel or unjust punishment on the child to be a criminal offense.

Unlike those two crimes, child endangerment punishes someone who creates or allows danger to arise. Not providing a child with medication is generally child neglect, while purposely refusing to seek medical treatment for a child’s severe injury or illness may be child endangerment.

The Punishment for Child Endangerment Depends on the Risk Created

Unless the child faced great bodily injury or death due to the risks your conduct created, child endangerment is charged as a misdemeanor in California. The maximum penalties include up to a year in county jail and a $1,000 fine. Often, a judge will sentence you to probation instead of jail time for a child endangerment charge that involved a smaller risk.

If the risk created placed a child was in a situation where great bodily injury or death could occur, California allows child endangerment to be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. Conduct such as leaving a loaded firearm within a child’s reach falls into this category of crime. Whether you are charged with a misdemeanor or felony will depend on the circumstances of your case and your criminal history. A felony charge carries a maximum of six years in state prison and a fine up to $10,000.

If law enforcement is investigating you for possible child endangerment charges in Carson, California, you will need a skilled criminal defense attorney on your side. The Chambers Law Firm can fight charges that could affect your parental rights. Contact us at 855-397-0210 or dchambers@clfca.com today.

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