Pursuant to California law, “child endangerment” is defined as a failure to protect your child, at any time, from conduct which could lead to physical pain or mental suffering. The relevant statute is California Penal Code §273(a). The offense of child endangerment focuses on the Defendant’s actions; if the Defendant puts a child in a dangerous situation, you are violating your duty of care to your child, and could face criminal child endangerment charges. While felony child endangerment can occur, the Prosecution must prove two key elements: the action must have been willful, and the conduct must occur in a situation that is likely to produce serious bodily injury or death. If either of these elements is not proven beyond a reasonable doubt, you cannot be convicted of child endangerment. If you have been charged with child endangerment, contact an attorney from Orange County Criminal Attorney immediately. Having competent counsel on your side from the beginning of the process will increase your chances of beating the charge altogether, or receiving minimal sentencing, exponentially.

The crimes of child endangerment and child abuse are often charged together, as child endangerment is a lesser form of child abuse. The key distinction is whether or not the child actually suffered harm. It is similar to the distinction between assault and battery. A child endangerment charge does not require that the child actually suffered damage, only that there was willful conduct, which could result in harm. In contrast, a child abuse charge hinges on whether or not willful conduct resulted in an actual injury to a child.


  • Leaving a child in a car, on a hot day, with the windows up.
  • Letting a child play with a loaded weapon. 
  • Overmedicating a child. 
  • Failing to provide medical care when a child is sick. 

In order to be convicted of child endangerment, the Prosecution must prove 5 elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

1. You acted willfully by inflicting physical pain or mental suffering unjustifiably on a child; 

2. You acted willfully or negligently in causing a child physical pain, or mental suffering, unnecessarily.

3. You acted negligently by causing, or permitting, a child in your care to be injured.

4. You acted negligently by causing a child in your care to be in a perilous situation.

A review of these elements will follow below. If the Prosecution does not prove each element beyond a reasonable doubt, you cannot be convicted of child endangerment. Orange County Criminal Attorney will vigorously advocate our client’s innocence.

What Does Willfully Mean When Charged With Child Endangerment?

One of the elements that Prosecution needs to prove beyond a reasonable doubt to maintain a charge of child endangerment against you is that you acted willfully. This means you acted willfully, as opposed to involuntarily. Regardless of your intentions, the fact that your act resulted in the harm to the child is sufficient to satisfy this element. It is no defense to say you didn’t mean to hurt the child. The Courts scale this definition back a little to limit the willfulness to actions, which by their very nature, will probably result in a direct injury to a child. 
Additionally, the act must be one which you knew, or should have known, would result in the application of physical force against the child. The “should have known” aspect above is dependent on a reasonable persons knowledge, as well as your personal knowledge of the situation. Thus, you can still be held accountable under the willfulness prong if other, ordinary, people would have realized the act would lead to physical harm to the child.


Ashley is a single mother, with a full time job and a 2 year-old daughter. When Ashley goes to work, she leaves her daughter with her neighbor Denise. One day, when picking up her daughter, Ashley noticed that her daughter had bruises and cuts all over her body. Despite this, Ashley leaves her daughter with Denise again the next day. Eventually, Ashley’s daughter was fatally injured. Ashley could be convicted of child endangerment, even though she did not intend for her daughter to suffer unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering. The “willfulness” element of the crime is satisfied because Ashley willfully left her child with Denise, knowing that her child had bruises and scratches after being left with Denise before.

In order to maintain a criminal charge for child endangerment, the Prosecution must prove that the act causing the child physical pain or mental anguish was unjustifiable, or unnecessary. This can be proven by showing that a reasonable person would not act in such a manner. California defines “unjustifiable pain or mental suffering” as pain or suffering is not reasonably necessary, or is excessive under the circumstances.

What Is Unjustifiable Physical Pain Or Mental Suffering When Being Charged With Child Endangerment?

Another critical element the Prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt is that the child’s pain or mental suffering was caused by unjustifiable, or unnecessary, conduct.

What Is Criminal Negligence?

Pursuant to California law, a failure to provide a duty of care, where a reasonable person in a similar situation would have provided that care, you have committed criminal negligence as it relates to child care. If you failed to care for a child, or acted recklessly in caring for a child who you have a duty of care towards, you may be guilty of child endangerment under a negligence theory. In short, you are considered criminally negligent when you allow a child to suffer, be injured, or be endangered. It should be noted, that in the event that your negligence was not the cause of the risk of injury, or mental suffering, you cannot be found guilty of child endangerment. Further, criminal negligence rises above the level of not exercising ordinary care, or being inattentive. To have acted with criminal negligence, the Prosecution must show two (2) thins:

1. You acted recklessly, by making a gross departure from the degree of care an ordinary person would exercise in the same scenario; and
2. Your conduct evidences a wanton disregard for human life, or an indifference to the consequences of you conduct. 


  • A caregiver does not provide medical care to an ill infant. Taking an infant surfing with you at night.
  • Someone on drugs taking an infant to a nightclub
  • Leaving a loaded weapon in a location easily accessible by a child. 
  • Allowing a child to play with bleach.

What Are The Penalties For Child Endangerment?

The crime of child endangerment is known as a “wobbler offense”, which means that you can be charged with either misdemeanor child endangerment, or felony child endangerment. While child endangerment is usually charged as a misdemeanor in California, there are circumstances that would cause you to be charged with felony child endangerment; this would be based on the degree of harm the child could have suffered because of your conduct. 

If you are charged with misdemeanor child endangerment, you may face up to one (1) year in county jail, misdemeanor probation for at least four (4) years, or a fine of up to $1,000, or a combination of all three.

If you are charged with felony child endangerment, the penalties may increase substantially based on the circumstances of the crime. If you are convicted of felony child endangerment you may face jail time ranging from two (2) to four (4) years, felony probation for at least 4 years, a fine of up to $10,000, or a combination of all three. The consequences become even more dire if the child ultimate suffered serious bodily injury. If the child suffered serious bodily injury, you may face an additional three (3) to (6) years. If a child died as a result of your conduct, you may face an additional four (4) years in jail, and risk being charged with murder or manslaughter.

The Three Strikes Law And Child Endangerment

California has a rule known as the “three strikes law.” Under this rule, if a Defendant is convicted of a violent felony, they receive a “strike.” If the Defendant is subsequently convicted of a second violent felony, the judge has the discretion to sentence the Defendant up to twice the original prison time. If a Defendant receives a conviction for a third violent felony, they could face up to 25 years in state prison.

What Legal Defenses Could My Attorney Pursue If I Am Charged With Child Endangerment?

As stated above, child endangerment is considered a “wobbler offense” in California. This means that you may be charged with a misdemeanor, or a felony, depending on the facts surrounding the incident. Regardless, a conviction for child endangerment will appear on your criminal record. This can impact sentencing and charges in subsequent cases. A conviction on your record could result in not getting a job because the employer conducted a background check. Further, a conviction for child endangerment will cause you to be on the “Domestic Violence Register”, which is accessible by many people. If you have been charged with child endangerment, contact an attorney from Orange County Criminal Attorney immediately. It is essential that your OCCA attorney be involved at the earliest possible moment to protect your rights, advocate for a lesser, or no, charge, and ultimately secure your freedom. 
The attorneys at OCCA could pursue a number of defenses to a child endangerment charge against you. Some of these defenses include: 

  • Wrongfully accused.

Unfortunately, in cases like this, California errs on the side of caution when accusations of child endangerment are made. This makes frighteningly easy to be subjected to a false accusation. This can be caused by any number of things including jealousy, revenge, or hate. OCCA attorneys have represented the falsely accused before, and take pride in clearing our client’s names. 

  • You did not act willfully

Sometimes the actions of the defendant were accidental or misunderstanding by the children. Under this type of defense, it is essential that the defense attorney and the prosecution get the entire facts of the accident. If you have been charged with assault make sure you contact an attorney immediately. San Diego Criminal Attorney can help you build a strong defense, if you did not act willfully.

  • Right to discipline
  • Your conduct was not excessive or unreasonable.