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Child Abuse

All children deserve to grow up in a secure environment. However, millions of minors worldwide face abuse either emotionally or physically. The law considers it child abuse when a caregiver for a child acts in a manner that harms the child. Child abuse can involve physical, sexual, emotional, or verbal abuse against a minor. Abuse of children can lead to physical harm, mental distress, or even death.

If you're facing allegations of child abuse under California PEN 273d, it's important that you get the assistance of a criminal defense lawyer. You can contact our legal team at Desert Defense Lawyers for competent representation to handle your case. Our attorneys serve in the city of Palm Desert, California

Understanding Child Abuse Under California Law

Child abuse laws are aimed at protecting children from actions that can be harmful to their safety and well-being. The provisions of California PC 273d define child abuse as the intentional infliction of physical injury or any kind of harm that leaves an individual under 18 years with a traumatic condition.

A case whereby an individual intentionally causes or subjects a minor to suffer physical, sexual, or emotional pain can be defined as an intentional infliction.

The following are some examples of corporal punishments that the law forbids:

  • Severely beating a minor.
  • Hitting a minor.
  • Pushing a minor.
  • Child neglect.

The provisions of California PC 11164 issue a stern warning against neglecting a minor, which also counts as child abuse.

Any form of abuse against children is illegal under California law. An individual who is found guilty of intentionally subjecting a minor to go through a situation that causes them harm or pain is likely to be detained and convicted in court for child abuse.

Mandated Reporters

California requires individuals to file reports of child abuse as outlined in the state's mandatory statutes. According to California PC 11164 through 11174.3 of the Child Abuse and Reporting Act, mandated reporters are required to file reports of child abuse to law enforcement or agencies that deal with such matters.

The mandated reporters include the following:

  • Teachers.
  • Classified school employees.
  • Certified workers at public childcare centers.
  • Counselors or administrators in child abuse programs.
  • Peace officers.
  • Medical examiners.
  • Psychologists.
  • Child visitation officers.
  • Clergy.
  • District attorneys.
  • Social workers.
  • A county education department official.

If a mandatory reporter suspects an incident of child abuse, he or she is obligated to report it to law enforcement or child protective services. They also have to fill out a verbal report form and notify the organization or the law enforcement agency that they're mandated reporters.

Unfortunately, someone could falsely accuse you of abusing a child, leading to your incarceration. As a result, legal professionals are familiar with similar instances and will question witnesses to make sure that no false claims are made in court.

Types of Child Abuse

Here are some common examples of child abuse.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse occurs when a caregiver or individuals close to the minor engage in sexual activity with them. The child could be coerced with money, presents, or other inducements by the sexual abuser.

Physical Abuse

This is defined as physically injuring or harming a minor. According to the legislation against child abuse, it's unlawful to pull, twist, or beat a minor to the extent that it causes harm or injures them. Spanking as a method of discipline is allowed under California law. However, the actual penalty has to meet the definition of what is considered to be reasonable.

Psychological Abuse

This type of abuse is not as apparent as physical abuse. It has an impact on a person's psychological well-being. Psychological abuse in children occurs when a minor's caregiver subjects them to actions that could have a detrimental impact on the child's mental health.

Emotional Abuse

This occurs when a caregiver intentionally hurts a minor's feelings to embarrass or shame them.

Child Endangerment

This type of child abuse is defined as failing to act or behaviors that expose a minor to harm. It could be tried as a felony or a misdemeanor crime.

Elements of Sexual Abuse

Child abuse takes on several different shapes, under California law. One of these is sexual assault. A sexual assault crime on a child is a violation of the following laws:

  • PC 261 Rape.
  • PC 285 Incest.
  • PC 261.5 Statutory rape.
  • PC 286 Sodomy.
  • PC 288a Oral copulation.
  • PC 647a Lewd acts on a minor.
  • PC 288 Child molestation or Sexual penetration.

The following actions are considered acts of sexual assault against minors as defined by California law:

  • Any act in which a person penetrates through a child's pubic organs. It makes no difference if there was ejaculation or not.
  • Oral contact with a child's anal openings or genitals.
  • Any kind of invasion, unless carried out by a medical professional on a child's sexual organs.
  • Intentionally interacting with a minor's genitalia for sexual enjoyment, except for legitimate medical procedures.
  • Intentionally touching a child's private parts to elicit sexual feelings. These organs could include the buttocks, genitalia, or breast.
  • Intentionally masturbating in front of a child.

California child abuse law also warns against commercial and personal sexual exploitation, which includes:

  • Any actions that violate California PC 311 and involve exposing a child to pornography.
  • Taking any action against children to persuade them to participate in sexual activity to create a film or other visual representation.
  • Any activity that involves a child in explicit sexual conduct, including creating, printing, downloading, or viewing digital media, except for those that involve authorities.
  • Possible sexual trafficking involving a child.
  • Offering a child food, money, or housing in exchange for sexual activity.

The Criminal Court Process

When there are concerns of child neglect or abuse, a mandated reporter notifies the appropriate law enforcement department. The agency would then investigate the facts to figure out whether or not an offense was committed. The law enforcement officers will proceed to interrogate any witnesses who are present as well as the defendant before recommending to the prosecution that charges be brought against the person in question.

If the law enforcement officers have enough proof to bring charges against the accused, that decision will be made at the prosecution's discretion. If not, the prosecution team will request that the police return and collect more evidence.

Once the officers have gathered enough proof, the district attorney would be notified of the case. The prosecutor would either opt to charge the accused or decide to close the case without charging them. He or she can decide that there's insufficient evidence to proceed with a court proceeding.

The defense attorney for an accused person will bargain with the prosecutor for reduced charges, like a misdemeanor, or for the allegations to be dropped altogether. The charges would be justified by the evidence available to them against the accused.

The defense counsel will also safeguard his/her client from police questioning since speaking to law enforcement without an attorney present can jeopardize the defendant's freedom. Any remarks you give as the defendant would be used against you, whether intentional or not.

When sufficient proof has been gathered and authorized by the prosecutor in charge, the court will issue an arrest warrant, and law enforcement will track down the accused person. During the arrest, the law enforcement officer will inform you about your rights, which include the following:

The Right to Remain Silent

In a legal sense, this means that any information you may have provided before being informed of your rights will be regarded as invalid.

  • Anything you say can and will be used against you.
  • Having a lawyer present when being questioned.
  • If you are unable to afford legal representation, the state could provide one for you.
  • The prosecution will allege that you intentionally neglected or hurt a child.

You'll be detained following your arrest while awaiting your arraignment. Your defense lawyer could request your bail hearing while you wait. If your bail motion is granted, you'll be freed on the condition that you show up for court on the designated day. During the court appearance, you will have the opportunity to enter a not guilty or guilty plea. Your defense lawyer could also ask the judge to postpone your hearing.

Burden of Proof

Individuals facing criminal charges are protected by the US Constitution. When someone has been accused of abusing a child, the state maintains that they are innocent until the court proves that they are guilty. As a result, the prosecutor must gather sufficient proof and testimony from witnesses to establish the accused's guilt. It is referred to as the burden of proof.

In every prosecution involving child abuse or neglect, the burden of proof lies with the prosecution. The defendant can not be found guilty by the jury if the prosecution cannot establish beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are guilty of the charges. If the prosecution presents evidence that proves the defendant's guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt, then the jury can find the offender guilty.

This burden of proof also indicates that the defendant needs to provide evidence in support of his or her defense during the trial. The burden of proof to establish that the person being charged is guilty rests solely with the prosecutor.

If the prosecution cannot prove the defendant's guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt, the charges could be dismissed. This indicates that the defendant will not be found guilty of the charges brought against them. Under double jeopardy laws, the defendant cannot be tried again for the same offenses for which they were found not guilty after being acquitted.

A criminal defense lawyer's job is to prevent the accused from being erroneously found guilty by refuting the prosecutor's evidence and demonstrating that the prosecution has not met its burden of proof.

The double jeopardy provision of the 5th Amendment has been implemented into Section 687 of the California PC, which means:

  • The same offenses cannot be brought against the defendant again.
  • The offender cannot receive a second conviction for a single crime.
  • The offender cannot be penalized more than once for a single offense.


The prosecutor's burden of proof in a case of child abuse or neglect is primarily focused on establishing intent. In criminal law, "intent" signifies that the defendant intended to commit the offenses in question. In a case involving child abuse, when the prosecution is unable to prove intent, the matter will be dropped and the defendant will be freed.

Child Abuse Penalties

The court will impose a penalty if you are found guilty of the accusations made against you in court. The judge has the option of sending you to prison, placing you on a probation term, or ordering you to pay fines. It all goes down to the nature of the charges the prosecution filed and the weight of the evidence they presented.

When it comes to crimes committed against children, both law enforcement officials and the general public tend to automatically assume that the perpetrators are guilty. As a result, these charges come with harsh penalties.

The severity of penalties for committing child abuse can vary widely. According to Section 290, all perpetrators are required to register themselves as sex offenders as soon as they are released from jail and provide details of their addresses and names to avoid being arrested. According to the law, sexual offenders who fail to update their registration each year and disclose their new addresses run a risk of being penalized or put in jail.

Legal Defenses in Cases of Child Abuse

A person accused of abusing or neglecting a child in California has a constitutional entitlement to a fair trial before a jury and a judge. The right to the due process ensures that the accused has a fair chance of putting forward a defense. Here are a few of the legal defenses a defendant could use.

False Allegations

What most people don't realize is that kids may make up stories, particularly when they're being controlled or under pressure. For instance, in dysfunctional homes, one parent could persuade a kid to level false charges against the second parent to undermine that parent's credibility and secure an upper hand during a child custody dispute. However, a knowledgeable defense lawyer would take notice of this, research all the facts, and stand up for their client to establish innocence.

An Accident

When kids participate in extracurricular pursuits, they risk hurting themselves. It's not unusual to hear of kids being hurt because they were being reckless or due to an accident. Accident-related injuries are not regarded as child abuse. The prosecution must demonstrate that the allegations are supported by verifiable misconduct on the side of the defendant.

Discipline by a Parent or Caregiver

Some children's injuries can be traced back to disciplinary measures taken by parents or other caregivers. Parental privilege is a defense that your defense lawyer will raise when a kid is injured while in the custody of the parents. Sadly, if the minor sustains major injuries due to being disciplined, this defense might not be successful.

Religious Principles

A defense lawyer could use religious beliefs when defending a defendant in states where there is a provision for religious exemption. A parent could use this argument if, for instance, they refused to bring in a kid for immunization due to a religious conviction.

An Illness

The defense attorney can bring up a health issue as a legal defense. Some children have pre-existing medical issues, such as fragile bones, which make them more likely to sustain injuries. The attorney will need to consult with experts, like psychologists or doctors, to support this claim.

Affirmative Defenses

The defendant could also raise affirmative defenses. Affirmative defenses can include things like entrapment, duress, insanity, self-defense, or an honest mistake. Using an affirmative defense entails admitting culpability to the charges levied against you due to insanity, entrapment, or self-defense.

What are the Common Signs of Child Maltreatment?

When it comes to younger children, the common indicators of abuse are problems complying with rules, being rude, having constant problems staying in a seat, difficulty focusing on tasks or concentrating, having frequent outbursts, and having poor relationships with their peers. Truancy, stealing, sexual risk-taking, and misuse of drugs represent a few of the most common indications of mistreatment or abuse in older children.

Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Being arrested for and facing charges of child abuse or neglect can be a stressful experience. The prosecutor should demonstrate both the existence of the crime and the existence of intent. For such reasons, it is highly recommended that you obtain the assistance of a defense lawyer. Your case will be best served by an attorney who has extensive training and expertise in cases involving child abuse.

Our lawyers at Desert Defense Lawyers are well-versed in California child abuse law and are prepared to defend you against these charges. To speak with one of our attorneys and get answers about the charges you're facing, call us at 888-293-0396. We serve in the city of Palm Desert, CA.

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