Fontana Child Abuse Lawyer and Child Abuse Defense Attorney

Crimes against children are considered some of the most heinous. These types of crimes can have detrimental impacts on the victim for many years of their lives. Because these crimes are so severe, prosecutors will push for the maximum sentence and often avoid plea deals and negotiations. For many accused of child abuse, however, the circumstances do not always fit the crime, and false accusations or confusing legal use of force against a child with abuse occur. These accusations risk more than just legal penalties but can also have a detrimental impact on the relationships and reputation of the accused.

At My SoCal Lawyers, our attorneys have over 70 years of criminal defense experience. We understand that each case is unique, and taking the time to understand the charges, evidence, and facts of our client’s cases means building a defense that our client deserves. Our attorneys recognize the severity of the charges, but we fight for the rights of our Fontana, CA clients so they are tried on fact and not on opinion.

Child Abuse Versus Permissible Punishment

California law does provide parents the legal right to use some forms of physical force with a child when they are administering discipline or punishment. This discipline or punishment can include spanking or using a paddle-type object when doing so and does not necessarily constitute child abuse.

If you are charged with child abuse as it is defined by California Penal Code 237d, you must have met certain circumstances. These circumstances include:

  • Willfully or intentionally caused harm to a child through “cruel or inhuman” punishment that is physical
  • The punishment caused a traumatic physical condition
  • In the course of committing such physical harm, the defendant had reasonable knowledge that they were disciplining the child

When considering what is reasonable, it is defined in a general sense. When determining the “reasonableness” of a crime, a court will consider whether the majority of individuals in the same situation would have or would not have acted in the same manner. Unfortunately, child abuse charges reveal the gray areas of interpreting a criminal action. What one parent may consider to be acceptable forms of discipline, another parent or person may see the actions as abusive or traumatic.

In determining whether a defendant should be charged with child abuse, prosecutors will look first at the injuries suffered by the victim, if there were any objects used in the commission of harm, and whether the defendant has exhibited similar behaviors in the past.

Types of Child Abuse

Child abuse cases, although difficult to interpret at times, fit very specific types of actions that are generally considered cruelty against a child. Types of child abuse for which a defendant can be charged include the following:

  • Physical abuse – Physical abuse is considered those actions that are willfully cruel in nature, excessive, or beyond justification that could be considered crimes such as assault and battery.
  • Sexual abuse – Any victimization of a child through sexual assault, including molestation, rape, incest, or other sexual behaviors.
  • Emotional abuse – The intentional abuse of a child that is meant to cause emotional or mental suffering and is not caused by physical means. This can include degrading, belittling, or bullying types of behavior.
  • Neglect – A parent is legally responsible for providing food, shelter, clothing, supervision, and other necessities required to maintain the child’s well-being, and failure to do so is negligent behavior.
  • Severe neglect – If the neglect of a parent or guardian towards a child is so severe that it causes further detriment to the child, such as malnutrition, it is charged as severe neglect.
  • Exploitation – Children are impressionable; if they are asked to engage in an activity that is beyond their understanding or in a behavior that is illegal, it is exploitation.
  • Child endangerment – This behavior places a child in dangerous situations or causes the child to suffer mental or physical injuries as a result of the dangerous circumstances they are placed in.

California, like many states across the country, requires those employed in professions that deal directly with children to report any suspected child abuse. This includes those working in education, child care workers, and social service workers. When reporting suspected child abuse, the reporter is not responsible for determining if it occurs; they are simply relaying the information and evidence they are aware of. An investigation by Child Protective Services (CPS) and law enforcement will ensue and will determine what next steps, if any, are necessary.

Fontana Child Abuse Lawyer

Penalties for Child Abuse

Child abuse is considered a “wobbler” crime in that the circumstances of the offense will determine whether it is charged as a misdemeanor or as a felony. This can leave a lot of uncertainty for those charged. Understanding which type of charge you face will help you and your criminal defense attorney to prepare,

The difference between a felony charge and a misdemeanor charge includes:

  • Felony – Felony child abuse is defined by California penal code 273a (a), which states the crime must be committed as “willfully cruel or neglectful with the threat of bodily injury or death.” By definition, this means that any physical or emotional harm you may cause towards a child that results in their potential injury or death can be considered a felony. This includes instances where intentional harm is caused to a child’s health or if the child is knowingly placed in a situation that endangers their health.
  • Misdemeanor – Misdemeanor child abuse is defined by California penal code 273a (b), which states the crime entails “willful neglect or cruelty that is not likely to result in bodily injury or death.” This is the charge that is likely to be filed if you are accused of causing or allowing a child to endure physical or mental suffering that is not likely to cause harmful bodily injury or death.

The type of charge you face and whether it is filed as a misdemeanor or a felony will impact the potential consequences that you could face. If you are convicted of child abuse, you may face any of the following:

  • Fines – Nearly every child abuse conviction will result in a financial fine. For misdemeanors, fines could be relatively low, while a felony conviction could be several thousand dollars or more.
  • Incarceration – Depending on the circumstances of your charge, you may face up to one year in county jail for a misdemeanor, while a felony charge could result in upwards of 6 years in state prison. Most child abuse convictions will result in some time behind bars.
  • Probation – In some circumstances, a judge may use their discretion to assign probation in lieu of jail time for a misdemeanor charge. However, probation may be added as an additional sentence to either felonies or misdemeanors, regardless of any imprisonment.
  • Other penalties – If you are convicted of child abuse and are the parent or guardian of the child, the court may impose parental restrictions that could limit the custody you have, your right to visitation, or your child may be removed completely from your home and placed into foster care. These measures are in place to provide safety and security for the child.

These punishments are not the limitations of what you may endure from a conviction for child abuse. With any criminal conviction, your criminal record will reflect the charge and could impact potential employment opportunities, housing applications, or future educational endeavors you may wish to explore. In addition, your relationships with friends and family may change as your reputation in your home and community may suffer as a result.

Common Defense for Child Abuse

While the circumstances of any case will determine the defense to put forth, there are common misconceptions that could defend against child abuse accusations. Common defense strategies include:

  • False Allegations – There are many different motives behind a false child abuse allegation. There could be anger, jealousy, revenge, or a number of other emotions that surround a spouse, domestic partner, family member, or ex that accuses you of child abuse. There may be a desire to gain custody of a child when they were previously denied or are looking to seek a more favorable view of themselves with others.
  • Accident – Injuries to children are not uncommon, and in some cases, it is simply an accident. From participation in sports to simply playing at home, there is a risk of injury in many places. However, those who may speak with the child and were not present may misinterpret details or circumstances of how the injuries came to be. Often injuries sustained by children are incidental. When using this defense, your criminal defense attorney may use witness testimony who can testify to how the injuries were sustained and the consistency of those injuries with others of similar circumstances.
  • Discipline – California law grants parents the right to use certain forms of corporal punishment in administering discipline to their children. This form of physical discipline is used to correct behavior that is seen as improper. However, this type of punishment must be reasonable in that the majority of other individuals would agree that it is a proper form of punishment. The most common form of corporal punishment is spanking. This defense must prove that based on the age of the child and the behavior in question warranted the discipline.

Signs of Child Abuse

Child abuse is a very serious crime. The intentional harm to a child can result in a lifetime of trauma that can impact their mental and physical well-being. While even those accused deserve to be defended from the allegations, the victims deserve to receive help. Common types of abuse and their warning signs include:

  • Emotional abuse – A child who is suffering from emotional abuse will often be withdrawn and appear fearful or anxious as though they are constantly doing something wrong. Their emotions may be extreme in that they are either overly passive or overly aggressive. They may appear detached from their parents or guardians. They may also appear to act extremely adult-like or extremely infant-like.
  • Physical abuse – Children who suffer physical abuse may appear to have frequent, unexplained injuries, cuts, bruises, or other physical injuries. They may appear to be always waiting for something to happen and, therefore, always on alert. The injuries they have may resemble a pattern that is consistent with a hand, belt, or other object. They may withdraw from physical touch, commonly seen in flinching at sudden movements. They may be afraid to go home. They may also wear clothing that covers their injuries regardless of the temperature or weather conditions.
  • Sexual abuse – Children who are victims of sexual abuse may have difficulty sitting or walking. They may have knowledge or interest in sexual behaviors that are inappropriate for their age. They may be avoidant of a specific person without a known reason. They may avoid physical activities or refuse to change clothes in front of others. They may have contracted a sexually transmitted disease. Finally, they may attempt or may actually run away from home.
  • Neglect – Signs of child neglect include improper clothing that is not conducive to the weather conditions or clothing that is dirty. The child has poor hygiene, including body odor or other signs of failing to clean themselves. They may suffer from frequent or untreated illnesses, or they may have injuries that are left untreated. They may be left home alone for extended periods of time, particularly if they are too young to take care of themselves. They may have poor attendance at school or are frequently late.

Signs of child abuse should be properly reported so that victims of these crimes are able to receive the help that they deserve.

Fontana Criminal Defense Attorney

It is important that you seek the help of an experienced and skilled criminal defense attorney like those at My SoCal Lawyers if you or a loved one are accused of child abuse. Our attorneys understand that an accusation alone does not mean you are guilty, and we focus on the facts and evidence of your case to build our defense. You deserve to have your rights protected and to have a defense that works for you, whether you are accused because of retaliation, there was an accident, or any other reason. These allegations are serious. Contact us today, and let us get to work for you right away.