Child Endangerment, also known as Willful Harm to a Child, is best defined as causing or allowing a child in the defendant’s custody or care to suffer unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering or to be placed in a situation where the child’s health is endangered.
Child Endangerment is a “wobbler” and can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on, among other factors, the severity of the alleged child endangerment. Also, it is a separate charge from Child Abuse, which may be charged under Penal Code § 273d.
Elements of a Child Endangerment Charge
The prosecution must prove the following facts to convict a defendant of Child Endangerment:
- Defendant, under conditions likely to cause a child great injury or death, did any of the following:
- Willfully caused or permitted a child to suffer unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering; OR
- Willfully caused or permitted a child in defendant’s custody to have his or her person or health injured; OR
- Willfully caused or permitted a child in defendant’s care to be placed in a situation where the child’s person or health is endangered
A common example of a Child Endangerment charge occurs when a spouse, knowing that the other spouse is causing serious harm to their child, either allows or does not prevent the spouse from harming the child.
Punishment for Child Endangerment
Child Endangerment can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. In deciding whether to file the charge as a misdemeanor or felony, the prosecutor will consider the extent of the severity of the alleged endangerment and the defendant’s criminal history. Punishment for Child Endangerment may include:
- Up to one year in county jail
- Minimum 4 years probation
- Minimum one year child abuser’s treatment program, if probation is granted
- Two, four or six years in state prison
Defenses to Child Endangerment Charges
Depending on the particular facts of a case, defenses to a Child Endangerment charge may include the following:
- False Accusations – Children or other adults sometimes falsely accuse a parent or guardian of abuse or endangerment due to anger, prompting by another adult, or for a variety of other reasons
Accident – Defendant did not deliberately do an act to endanger the child