Domestic Crimes

Child Abuse

Child Abuse or Corporal Injury of a Child is willfully inflicting upon a child cruel or unusual punishment or injury that results in some visible injury, no matter how slight.

Child Abuse can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on, among other things, the severity of the injury inflicted. It is a separate charge from Child Endangerment, which may be charged under Penal Code § 273a for 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.

Elements of Child Abuse

The prosecution must prove the following facts to convict a defendant of Child Abuse:

  • Cruel or Inhuman Punishment – Defendant inflicted upon a child any form of cruel or inhuman punishment or injury.
  • Intent – Defendant willfully (intentionally) inflicted the cruel and unusual punishment or injury
  • The Child Suffered A “Traumatic Condition” – The victim’s injury must be a “traumatic condition”. A traumatic condition requires a visible injury, but it does not need to be a serious injury. The injury can be small, such as a tiny scratch, or a more serious injury such as visible swelling or trauma.  If the victim’s injury is very serious, the prosecution may seek to “enhance” the charge by alleging a “great bodily injury” enhancement to increase the defendant’s punishment.

Punishment for Child Abuse

Child Abuse is considered a “wobbler” and can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. In deciding whether to file the charge as a misdemeanor or felony, one of the issues the prosecutor will consider is the extent of the victim’s injuries and the defendant’s criminal history.

As with any crime, the potential punishment for Child Abuse will vary based on the facts of the case, and can include:


  • Up to one year in county jail
  • Up to a $6,000 fine
  • Minimum three years probation
  • Minimum one year child abuser’s treatment program, if probation is granted


  • Two, four or six years in state prison
  • Up to a $6,000 fine
  • An additional four years in state prison if the defendant has a prior conviction under Penal Code § 273d within 10 years

Defenses to Child Abuses Charges

Depending on the unique facts of each and every case, defenses to a Child Abuse charge may include the following:

  • False Accusations – Children sometimes falsely accuse a parent or guardian of abuse due to anger, prompting by another adult, or for a variety of other reasons
  • Self Defense – Defendant used reasonable self defense to protect himself or herself from an attack from a child
  • Accident – Defendant did not deliberately do an act to cause injury