California Child Abuse Laws – Penal Code 273d

This is a situation where someone inflicts corporal injury on a child.  Usually, I see these cases where parents become angry with their children and physically beat them as part of their punishment. The Jury Instruction used in these cases is CALCRIM 823, which says that every person who willfully inflicts upon any child any cruel or inhumane corporal punishment or injury resulting in a traumatic condition is guilty of a violation of Penal Code Section 273d.

It defines a traumatic condition as a condition of the body such as a wound or external or internal injury, whether of a minor or severe nature caused by physical force.  Then it talks about corporal punishment as that administered to the body. To prove this crime, each of the following elements must be established: 

  • (1) a person willfully inflicted cruel or inhumane punishment or injury upon the body of a child; and
  • (2) the infliction of that punishment or injury resulted in a traumatic condition.

So, if you zero in on this sanction, it's pretty murky as to what if a parent becomes angry and spanks their child.  Probably the authorities are not going to get involved with a case like that as long as there's no physical injury. Still, I see these cases where a child is punished, and they go to school, and there's some mark on them, or they tell the school authorities that their parents beat them.

Suppose the school authorities can see anything visible or the child is complaining of any severe pain or injury. In that case, they're going to call the police in, and now you've got a whole police investigation going.

Factors Considered by Prosecutors on Filing Criminal Case

How it's going to be decided whether or not a criminal case will be filed will be determined by the prosecutors because they're lawyers.  They know the case law here, and if you listened carefully or read carefully about this child beating Section 273d, you don't even have to be the parent of the child to be charged with this.

If you are the parent of the child and you attack a child physically, and there's some traumatic condition — if they can see some injury — even if it's a minor injury — you can be charged under this particular Section.

This is terrifying for parents who discipline their children physically because if the authorities get their hands on the case, you can be charged with a crime.  Not only would you be charged with a crime, but you're also looking at a situation where they're going to put a protective order in place against you related to your child.

So now, you may be ordered to stay away from your child for some time while you are punished, get parenting classes, and even sometimes have to go to jail depending on how badly the child was injured — how badly the beating was administered to the child.

So, if you have one of these cases, you have a big problem, and you need to get to an attorney right away because another entity that becomes involved in these cases is Child Services. They're going to come into the home, look at the house, see what's going on there, and then they're going to start asking questions, and you may say something where you incriminate yourself.

This puts you in a challenging position because, on the one hand, you want to talk to them and cooperate with them so you can have your parental rights, but on the other hand, if they're going to pass that information along to the police, that puts you in a challenging position.

Reviewing Defense Strategy with Criminal Lawyer

This is where an attorney needs to get involved and get a strategy together to help protect your rights, interest, freedom, and of course, your future with your child. Being charged with the abuse of a child is a serious and challenging problem that requires the assistance of an experienced and well-informed criminal defense lawyer. In a jury trial, the jury generally favors the child, and that is why it is essential to retain the services of an aggressive, intelligent, persuasive child abuse defense attorney.

We have the necessary knowledge, skill, and strategy to effectively represent you in a child abuse case. In a child abuse case, it is vital to act quickly and intervene at the early stages of the process. Child abuse is defined by California Penal Code Section 273d, which makes it a punishable crime to inflict corporal injury or punishment on a child. This does not include spanking due to a parent's right to discipline their child as they see fit.

The crime is a wobbler, meaning that it may be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor depending on the severity of the abuse and other surrounding circumstances such as priors and criminal history. If prosecuted as a misdemeanor, the maximum sentence is one year in county jail and a $6,000 fine. If charged as a felony, it carries a California State Prison sentence of two, four, or six years and the same maximum fine.

So, if you've got a case where you're being charged with beating your child and have been arrested, are facing court proceedings, pick up the phone.  Make the call.  Come and sit in the privacy of my office, and we can go over all of the facts and details of what happened so we can get you the best outcome. As your lawyer, we will assert any defenses applicable on your behalf. We will aggressively fight and do everything to get the best possible results.