Child Abuse - PC 273d

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Penal Code Article & Definition 

California Penal Code 273d is the statute for the crime of child abuse, also known as corporal injury in a child. The statute makes it illegal to impose physical injury or cruel punishment on a child. 

The crime can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the facts and circumstances of the case. 

Elements of Child Abuse 

Child abuse is defined as 

  1. The defendant willfully inflicted cruel or inhuman physical punishment and/or an injury on a minor;
  2. The punishment and/or injury inflicted by the defendant caused a traumatic physical condition; and
  3. When the defendant acted, he/she was not reasonably disciplining the minor 

Corporal punishment is defined as any physical punishment. 

A “traumatic condition” is defined as a wound or other bodily injury, whether minor or serious, caused by the direct application of physical force. 

An injury is inflicted “willfully” if the act causing the injury is done on purpose. 

Examples of Child Abuse 

  • Slapping a child hard enough to leave a mark 
  • Punching a teenage boy for staying out too late
  • Hitting a child with a belt harder than is reasonable in order to discipline her 
  • Kicking a child 
  • Shaking a baby to make them stop crying 
  • Throwing a child or throwing an object at a child 

Mandatory Reporting Law

California has mandatory reporting laws that requires certain professions (teachers, child care workers, social service providers, etc) to report suspected instances of child abuse and neglect. 


In California, spanking is not considered child abuse if it is for disciplinary purposes and is not excessive under the circumstances. 

This applies to spanking both with a bare hand and with an object (i.e. a belt or paddle). However, this is a very controversial area, and it can change at any time. Additionally, a jury can find that you were excessive in the spanking, thus convicting you of child abuse. 

Legal Defenses 

Even though you are charged with child abuse, you and your attorney can still fight the charges regardless of whether you are charged with a misdemeanor or felony. There are multiple options available to you, including: 

  • The allegations are false,
  • The minor’s injuries were caused by something other than abuse,
  • The defendant was acting within his/her legal right to discipline the child, and/or
  • The injury was the result of an accident 

Prior Acts of Child Abuse 

In California, prior acts or convictions for child abuse are admissible in child abuse prosecution. They are admissible wehther the act resulted in a conviction or not. 

A hearing must first be held to determine if the prior act of child abuse or conviction is overly prejudicial against the defendant. 

Overview of Penalties 

Child abuse is a “wobbler” offense, which means that the prosecutor can charge the crime as either a misdemanor or a felony depending on the facts and circumstances of the offense and the defendant’s criminal history. 

Misdemeanor Penalties 

If charged as a misdemeanor, child abuse can be punished by up to one year in county jail and/or a fine up to $6,000. 

Felony Penalties 

If charged as a felony, child abuse can be punished by up to six years in state prison and/or a fine up to $6,000. 

Additionally, it is possible for the sentence to increase by four years, if you have a prior child abuse conviction. 

Lastly, a conviction for child abuse can count as a “strike” under California’s Three Strikes law. This occurs when the minor suffered great bodily injury as a result of the abuse. 

Probation Conditions 

On occasion, a judge will sentence a defendant to probation instead of jail time. Probation can be imposed for misdemeanor or felony child abuse. 

If probation is sentenced, the defendant is required to abide by the following conditions: 

  • A mandatory minimum probation period of 3 years;
  • A protective order that prohibits further violence or threats against the victim (and may prohibit the defendant from any contact with the victim); and
  • Successful completion of a child abuser’s treatment program lasting at least one year 
  • Random drug testing