Although “child endangerment” carries serious connotations, the laws surrounding this complex issue are relatively broad and can affect you if you aren’t careful.
Child endangerment severely threatens parents, caregivers, teachers, and daycare workers.
Child endangerment is a standard charge; In 2017 alone, California received 400,187 referrals for child abuse and neglect, making it one of the most common issues facing families in the court system.
Child endangerment laws are designed to protect children from abusive and neglectful situations, and understanding these laws can help protect you against unintended consequences.
Use this guide to child endangerment laws and charges to learn more about this complex issue—and how you can protect yourself.
What is Child Endangerment?
Child endangerment is a legal term that describes any harm done to children.
According to California penal code 273a(a), any person who does great harm to a child, whether physical, mental, emotional, or sexual, is subject to child endangerment charges. Regardless of whether the damage was intended, persons found responsible for child endangerment can face up to one year in county jail or up to six years in state prison.
Although there are many overlapping definitions of child endangerment, it typically encompasses any abuse, neglect, or other harm done to a child.
Who Is Responsible for Child Welfare?
According to the state, any caregiver of a child is responsible for the safety and well-being of that child.
This includes parents and caregivers, teachers, doctors, therapists, daycare workers, and others who care for children.
Furthermore, anyone caring for a child is a mandated reporter, meaning they must report any child abuse or neglect by any party. Failure to do so can result in dire consequences, including child endangerment charges.
What Constitutes Child Endangerment?
Many actions constitute child endangerment—and failure to act sometimes counts under California laws.
Child endangerment can include:
- Physical abuse or assault
- Emotional abuse
- Malicious punishment
- Willful caging or imprisonment of a child
- Willful torture
- Abandoning a child without adult supervision in a public place
- Operating a vehicle while intoxicated with a child
- Taking or manufacturing drugs in a home with a child
- Keeping weapons in a house with a child
- Engaging in sexual conduct in front of a child
- Ignoring safety requirements (including using car seats)
- Intoxicating a child with alcohol or other intoxicants
- Leaving a child alone in a motor vehicle
- Neglect of a child
- Failure to report abuse or neglect of a child
- And more
Because child endangerment laws are so broad and all-encompassing, many people find themselves having to go to court.
If you aren’t adequately educated on child endangerment laws, you can face the consequences, so it’s best to stay abreast of this critical issue.
Child Endangerment Charges and Consequences
Because child endangerment is such a broad category, many consequences can arise from being found guilty of such a crime.
Child endangerment can be charged as a felony or misdemeanor, depending on the nature of the abuse and the severity of the charge.
According to California law, misdemeanor penalties for child endangerment can include the following:
- Up to six months in county jail
- A fine of no more than $1,000
- Restraining orders
- Summary probation for four or more years
- Alcohol and drug abuse rehab programs
- Court-approved child-rearing training programs
- Randomized drug tests
- And more.
If you are found guilty of a felony of child endangerment, you might face the following:
- Imprisonment up to six years in state prison
- A fine of no more than $10,000.
- Formal probation lasts four or more years.
- Misdemeanor penalties such as those described above.
Because charges are determined at a judge’s discretion, you might face additional penalties pending the judge’s decisions.
Judges may occasionally add additional penalties, including:
- An additional sentence
- Additional charges—particularly if the child died while in your care.
Ultimately, if you are accused of child endangerment, you’ll want to obtain a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible to avoid the above penalties.
How Do Judges Determine Child Endangerment?
Child endangerment is any neglect, abuse, or exposure to harmful situations in which a child may suffer mental, emotional, or physical injuries or death.
The state of California determines child endangerment based on several different factors.
If there is willful harm or neglect, the case is relatively easy to prosecute.
However, judges also look for the defendant’s responsibility in any injuries or damages inflicted upon a child—regardless of intent.
Evidence of Child Endangerment
When a court prosecutes an individual for child endangerment, the prosecutor typically seeks the following evidence.
- Proof that you acted in a reckless manner
- Evidence that you were intoxicated or under the influence of a drug
- Actions that were unreasonable given the circumstances
- Responsibility for the care and well-being of the child
- Proof of neglect
- Proof of willful endangerment
Most prosecutors will need tangible evidence to prove the above, including, but not limited to:
- Police reports
- Medical bills
- And more.
The judge will then review the evidence against you and determine whether you were at fault. With the right lawyer, you can provide evidence to testify to your defense and receive a better outcome than you otherwise would.
How to Handle a Child Endangerment Case
An accusation of child endangerment can dramatically impact your life. In addition to the above penalties, many people face ongoing issues, such as exclusion from places where minors are present.
If you’ve been accused of child endangerment and suspect you might be facing a legal case, consider the following tips and best practices.
Consider Working with a Qualified Attorney
The first step in handling any child endangerment case is to receive the help of a lawyer.
If you can, consider finding the best child endangerment attorney in your area. An attorney can help you:
- Gather evidence to prove your innocence
- Navigating the complexities of a legal case
- Prove your innocence
- Obtain the best outcome possible
- Fight your charges
- Regain custody of your child if possible and applicable
- Manage the actual and psychological burdens of your situation
Prepare Your Defense
With your lawyer, you’ll begin to prepare your defense. Your lawyer will seek to prove any of the following scenarios.
- Your behavior was not intentional
- Your conduct was not criminal
- You were reasonably disciplining or punishing a child
- The facts in your case were manipulated or mistaken.
- Someone else was responsible for the situation
- The accusations were false.
- Your religious beliefs determine your actions.
Ultimately your lawyer will seek to prepare the best defense possible, granting you a favorable outcome given your situation.
Remain Vigilant and Adhere to Local and State Laws
The most important thing to do while you await your trial is to remain vigilant and ensure that you comply with child safety laws.
This can include (but is not limited to):
- Adhering to any immediate consequences, such as restraining orders
- Respecting the child’s parents’ wishes (if applicable).
- Restricting contact with children (if possible and practical).
- Refraining from using drugs or alcohol
- Ensuring child safety at all times
- Refraining from leaving children alone at any time.
- Using properly regulated equipment (car seats, etc.)
Ultimately, you should consult your lawyer on the best course of action and ensure that you are on your best behavior while you await your trial.
How to Avoid a Child Endangerment Accusation
Whether or not you’ve been accused of child endangerment, you’ll need to follow the proper precautions to ensure that you are not at risk of being held responsible for an injury or illness sustained by a child.
There are many precautions you can take. The best course of action is to consistently behave in the best interest of the children under your care.
Refrain From Using Excessive Punishment
Punishment is often behind many accusations of child endangerment, whether physical or emotional.
For this reason, it’s essential to consider whether the punishment you inflict on a child is proportional to the infraction and does not inflict undue harm.
Refrain from using corporal punishment unless it aligns with your religious beliefs, and you can prove this in a court of law.
Ensure That Children Are Supervised at All Times
The absence of supervision is also a common cause for a child endangerment accusation.
For this reason, you’ll need to ensure that children around you are supervised at all times. Do not leave a child in the car at any time, and make sure that you are present whenever a child is left at home or in public.
Additionally, proper supervision includes a person who is not intoxicated. Ensure that you aren’t using drugs or alcohol when supervising children.
Protect Children From Harm
Mandated reporters must report instances of harm or abuse against a child—or face unintended consequences as described above.
Even if you aren’t a mandated reporter, you should ensure that any children around you are always safe from possible harm. This will help you avoid an accusation of child endangerment and ensure the well-being and safety of children wherever possible.
Contact Garret T. Rice for Help
If you’re seeking assistance with a child endangerment case, consider contacting the law offices of qualified family lawyer Garret T. Rice.
We can help you gather evidence to prove your innocence, meet court dates and deadlines, and receive the best outcome for your case. Additionally, a lawyer can help remove some of the psychological burdens of navigating a complex and burdensome court case.
Consider giving us a call today to learn more about how we can help you.