As a guardian or parent, child abuse is a case you can never wish to face because of your emotional connection to your children. Since the court considers children as vulnerable members of society, the prosecution team treats crimes involving minors seriously. On top of paying hefty fines and serving extensive jail terms, the court can order you to enroll in a counseling program. However, it does not necessarily mean you will face conviction. You can fight the charges by working with an experienced criminal defense attorney.
At Koenig Law Office, our attorneys are available to help you. We understand the legal process and courtroom processes involved in child abuse. We are available around the clock, meaning you can reach us anytime the law enforcement officers arrest you over a child abuse case in Bakersfield, CA.
The Meaning of Child Abuse
According to California laws, child abuse is the mistreatment or harm of a child under 18 years old. The mistreatment may lead to emotional harm, physical harm, death, or sexual abuse of a minor. Child abuse is also corporal injuries under California PC 273(d). Corporal injury occurs when parents or caregivers physically, emotionally, or sexually abuse a minor, harming the minor. Child abuse laws prohibit child abuse and child neglect. In our country, caregivers and parents have the right to discipline their children, but the law protects children from any harm in the disciplining or correction process.
The Elements of Child Abuse
Like in other criminal cases, the court must prove the elements of child abuse before you face conviction. The elements are:
- You inhumanely or cruelly punished the child in a way that resulted in injuries
- Your acts were willful
- Your actions or punishment resulted in a traumatic situation
- You did not administer reasonable disciplinary measures
Remember, willful acts do not mean you intend or are illegally aimed at causing harm to the child. It means your behavior was intentional. Again, child abuse only occurs to people aged below 18 years. The actions of child abuse can vary, from burning them with a cigarette to throwing heavy objects at them. Once you face allegations of child abuse in California, you must ensure you seek legal help from your criminal defense attorney. Remember, the law is strict when it comes to matters relating to children.
The Potential Penalties for Child Abuse
Due to the nature of child abuse cases, the court treats them aggressively. Remember, children are among the most vulnerable groups in society. When the case involves sexual violence, the court can charge it a felony, while when the child is involved in neglect acts, the court can charge it as a misdemeanor. The severity of the charges varies based on the facts surrounding the case.
For example, the court may consider the age of the alleged child when determining the penalty. When the abuse involves an older child, the punishment is less severe. Alternatively, when the case involves The charge tends to be severe. The criminal court may charge you with any of the following penalties:
The judge may sentence you to probation when the court charges you with a misdemeanor charge. According to California PC 273d, once the court issues a probation sentence, the sentence must include compulsory conditions. The conditions may include serving a probation term for up to 36 months. Also, the court may order you to undergo mandatory alcohol and drug testing.
Terminating Your Parental Rights
When the court convicts you of child abuse, you may lose your legal parental or guardianship rights mentally, sexually, or physically. The court may award the legal rights to another person to prevent the crime from reoccurring. If the court allows you to enjoy your parental rights, you may do so under supervision.
When convicted of child abuse in California, you will pay a fine not exceeding $6,000 for felony and misdemeanor charges.
The court uses jail sentences to punish many offenders of child abuse. But the length of your stay behind bars will change. For example, the prison considers how the court charged you with the crime. When the court charges you with a misdemeanor, you will likely spend 12 months in jail. Alternatively, when the court charges you with a felony, you are more likely to spend between two and six years in prison. You might even face additional four years in jail if you have a record of child abuse.
How Prior Child Abuse Instances Might Affect Your Current Child Abuse Case
In California, the courts do not consider prior allegations or violations as evidence. However, the case is different when it comes to child abuse. The prosecution team can use your past criminal history against you. Therefore, the prosecutor may bring a past criminal conviction to the court to act as evidence. Additionally, they can provide past accusations that were never proven. So, you want to work with a criminal defense attorney to help you fight the charge.
Types of Child Abuse
In California, child abuse can occur in various forms. Again, it also happens for several reasons. The following are different types of child abuse according to California laws:
Physical abuse occurs when a child is injured non-accidentally by someone responsible for caring for them. Even when the parent/caregiver does not intend to cause harm, the court still considers their actions child abuse. The damage resulting from bodily injury may come when the caregiver severely beats, slaps, chokes, or punishes a child. Severe physical punishment includes using force to inflict pain on the child for discipline or correction. Sometimes the punishment could cause injuries and becomes child abuse. Again, physical child abuse may result in the death of the minor or severe trauma. If you are the defendant, you may land in serious trouble.
Parents and caregivers may abuse minors when they have difficulties controlling their anger, behavior, and emotions and direct them to the child. You have to note that you can easily notice a physically abused child. The children find it difficult to relate to their peers around them. Again, they become aggressive and react strongly at times. The children may also have cuts, burns, and bruises.
Emotional abuse is a form of psychological maltreatment of a child. Emotional abuse occurs like physical and sexual abuse. Parents may abuse their children emotionally through words or actions without physically touching them.
Emotional abuse occurs in many forms. For example, when a caregiver humiliates, insults, or restricts the child from socializing, this may negatively affect the child's self-esteem. The abuse impacts the minor's ability to interact with others.
As a caregiver, you may emotionally abuse a child without realizing it. For example, you impact your child's emotions when you have aggressive parenting methods like shouting and intimidation. Emotional abuse also occurs in other places where minors spend their time, like schools. A teacher may directly or indirectly abuse minors emotionally by belittling words or actions. Again, children may be abused by fellow learners in school through bullying.
Psychological maltreatment increases the child's risk of suffering from mental health issues like depression and anxiety in the future. Emotionally abused children may continue the cycle in adulthood and psychologically abuse their children. The abuse may increase crime rates and educational failure in society.
Sexually Abusing a Child
Sexual abuse of a child occurs when an adult, adolescent, or another child uses their power to engage in sexual activity. Again, it may occur when you expose the child to inappropriate sexual behavior like pornography. Child sexual abuse may occur through threats, physical force, and manipulation. The offender may convince the child to touch or kiss adults' genitals or do the same to the child, then convince the child to believe the act is due to love and not abuse.
Sexual abuse involves either physical contact or non-contact with the offender. The offender may abuse the minor by performing oral, vaginal, or anal sex through the penetration of a finger, an object, or a penis. The offender may also abuse the child sexually by involving or exposing the child to pornography or prostitution.
Regardless of the child's reaction to the act, the adult is responsible for sexual activity with a minor. Sexual abuse occurs in secret. Therefore, all male or female children are in danger of sexual abuse. Sexually abused children are withdrawn, have seductive behavior, and experience suicidal thoughts.
Primarily, child neglect occurs when a parent or guardian fails to perform their duties towards their children. The responsibilities towards their child include food, love, care, medicare, and support. A single act of negligence is not treated as child abuse. However, the repeated occurrence of the activities becomes a criminal offense against a minor.
As a caregiver, you may neglect a child by failing to provide basic needs for your child. Basic needs include proper medical care, nutrition, housing, clothing, and adequate supervision of minors to prevent any harm. When your child is of school age, and you fail to enroll them in school, you are educationally neglecting the child. Again, caregivers face accusations of emotional neglect when they fail to provide emotional support, love, and affection to their children.
The legal Defenses of Child Abuse
Defending child accusations in California is challenging since the crime involves a child’s testimony. The criminal courts in California seem to sympathize with the children and are more likely to believe the child's testimony. Also, the court prioritizes protecting the rights of children. As a result of the nature of the crime, you must work closely with a lawyer to help you obtain a fair outcome for your case. Your attorney may help you fight the charge by using the following legal defenses:
The common defense you can use to fight the child abuse case is false accusations. A child may easily be manipulated to issue a false testimony under stress or fear. For example, a child in a dysfunctional home might create a fake testimony of child abuse to help them leave the challenging situation in their home.
During child custody and divorce, one spouse might attempt to put the child against the other and force the child to develop fake testimonies about abuse. When the child does so, the chances of obtaining total custody increase. But with a well-trained and aggressive attorney, you may expose essential details about the case and demonstrate instances of false accusations.
Existing Disease or Medical Condition
A child might have an existing disease or medical complication, exposing them to harm after a slight provocation. If this is your situation, the defense of the child's existing medical conditions can be your best option. But you must back this defense up with medical details. Medical information can play a significant role in ensuring you fight the charge.
Injuries Because of Other Factors/Causes
In California, the court cannot consider harm or injuries resulting from other causes as child abuse unless the alleged injuries are attracted by the guardian or parents' carelessness. For instance, you try to train your child on skating, but they fall and sustain injuries. In this case, the court cannot consider your action as child abuse. You can employ this defense to fight the charge since your actions were not intentional.
Before the court convicts you of child abuse, they consider the cause of the harm or injury. So, you can argue that the injuries sustained by the child were a result of other factors. The court will consider dropping the charge or dismissing your case.
Usually, a guardian or parent has the right to choose a lawful method to discipline their child when they do wrong. But the method should not cause severe injuries or harm to the child. Threats or spanking are familiar subjects in child abuse cases.
But when the guardian or parent is away, the child might be under the observation of another person. The person may include a teacher or a babysitter. The above individuals may use this defense to fight the charge by arguing they had the right to discipline the child as their parents. Your attorney may also provide evidence to support your claim that you had the disciplinary right to punish the child.
Sometimes a child may sustain severe injuries or die because of a lack of treatment. Although the medical situation could be treated, you can use this defense to fight the charge. Your attorney may argue you failed to provide medical help to the child because of religious beliefs. But the effectiveness of this defense will depend on the circumstances surrounding the case.
Other Related Offenses
In California, child abuse can be charged alongside other related crimes. These crimes are:
Child Endangerment – California PC 273a
According to California PC 273a, exposing a child to pain, suffering, or danger is illegal. The crime differs from child abuse, although they are commonly charged together. The prosecution team must prove the following elements for the court to find you guilty of child endangerment:
- You willfully inflicted physical or mental suffering on the child
- You caused or allowed a child to undergo physical or mental suffering
- You are the guardian or parent of the child
- You were criminally negligent when you allowed or caused the child to suffer injuries
The Legal Penalties for Child Endangerment
The penalties, punishment, and sentence for child endangerment may vary based on whether you caused death or severe injuries to the child. You may remain behind bars for up to six months when convicted of a misdemeanor offense. Also, you are fined an amount not exceeding $1,000. Again, the court can impose informal probation.
Child Neglect – California PC 270
Under PC 270, it is a criminal offense for a guardian or parent to willfully fail without a legal excuse to provide their children clothing, shelter, medical care, or food. Before you face conviction for child neglect, the prosecution team must prove the elements of the crime. The elements include:
- The alleged child is under 18 years
- You then did not want to provide for the basic needs of your children
What are the Legal Penalties for Child Neglect?
In California, the law considers child neglect a misdemeanor. You could remain behind bars for up to 12 months when charged with a misdemeanor. Also, the court could fine you an amount not exceeding $2,000. Alternatively, the court can charge you with a felony in rare cases. A felony charge is applicable to repeat offenders.
Contact a Bakersfield Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
Child abuse in Bakersfield, CA, can result in loss of parental rights, criminal penalties, and losing your job if you work with your children. So, when you face allegations of child abuse, it is essential to seek legal help from an aggressive criminal defense attorney. The attorney will offer professional and comprehensive representation in your case.
At Koenig Law Office, we are determined to assist you and ensure you avoid harsh penalties. Our deep experience will help you understand your responsibilities and rights and defend your charges. Do not handle the legal process alone. Contact us today at 661-793-7222, and our aggressive attorneys will be glad to offer legal help.