California Child Abuse Laws: Assault, Battery & Neglect

By Mackenzie Maxwell

Updated December 09, 2019

Male Judge In A Courtroom Typing On Laptop


Laypeople often use child abuse, neglect and endangerment interchangeably. However, these related terms are three separate offenses under California law. Depending on the case, authorities can charge a suspect with all three of these crimes, thus increasing the child abuse punishment possibilities.

Child abuse, neglect and endangerment are illegal under both federal and California state laws. Anyone involved in caring for children in California may wish to understand what the state considers abuse, child abuse punishments and possible legal defenses for these charges.

Defining Abuse, Neglect and Endangerment

California Penal Code 273d defines child abuse as an action that causes β€œcorporal injury to a child.” This can include physical punishment that a jury finds cruel as well as anything that causes a traumatic condition. Many actions may qualify as abuse, including spanking hard enough to leave a mark or sexual abuse.

While abuse involves an action, neglect is an absence of action. California authorities may charge a person with neglect if they are the parent of the child in question and fails to provide for the child's physical needs. These needs include shelter, food, medical care and clothing.

California also makes it illegal for any adult – not just the parents – to put a child in harm's way. If someone willfully puts a minor in a situation that is dangerous, authorities can charge that person with child endangerment, even if the child does not get physically hurt.

Felony vs. Misdemeanor Abuse and Neglect

Crimes of all kinds generally fall into two categories: felonies and misdemeanors. Felonies typically carry longer sentences than misdemeanors. Furthermore, being convicted of a felony can cause people to lose certain rights.

Depending on the severity of the case, authorities may charge someone in California with either misdemeanor or felony child abuse. Which type of crime it is will affect the punishment for child abuse.

While most neglect cases are misdemeanor crimes, authorities may charge offenders with felony neglect in some severe cases. Child endangerment is a misdemeanor offense.

Child Abuse Punishment

Violating child abuse, neglect and endangerment laws in California can come with serious consequences. The felony child abuse punishment is two to six years in jail and/or up to $6,000 in fines. Offenders who have previous child abuse convictions in the previous decade add an additional four years to their sentences.

Misdemeanor child abuse punishment runs up to one year in county jail and/or a fine of up to $6,000. People who are convicted of misdemeanor child neglect in California face up to one year in county jail and/or a $2,000 fine. If the child neglect charge is a felony, the sentence may be the same as a misdemeanor and/or a year and one day in state prison.

Child endangerment charges are always misdemeanors. When someone is convicted of this charge, the court may sentence that person to one year in county jail and/or a $1,000 fine.

Common Related Charges

When authorities charge suspect with child abuse, neglect or endangerment, they may also bring up other charges as well. Depending on the facts of the case, a defendant may get charged with crimes such as:

  • Battery.
  • Assault.
  • Domestic violence.
  • Child abduction.
  • Deprivation of custody.
  • Lewd acts with a minor.
  • Driving under the influence.

If authorities suspect that a child died as the result of abuse, neglect or endangerment, they may also charge the defendant with manslaughter or murder.

Each of these additional charges may can add time and/or fines to a person's child abuse punishment. Unless the court says otherwise, defendants in California serve their sentences concurrently so that they only stay behind bars as long as their longest sentence. However, some defendants must serve consecutive sentences in which the jail time adds up.