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California Child Abuse Laws | Penal Code 273d PC


According to California Penal Code 273D, child abuse occurs when someone intentionally subjects a child to “cruel or inhuman corporal punishment” or causes an injury that leads to a “traumatic condition.” The severity of the offense can vary, leading to either misdemeanor or felony charges. If convicted, the individual could face a maximum sentence of up to 6 years in jail or prison.

Often termed as ‘corporal injury on a child’, this statute is intricately linked with domestic violence offenses and can lead to severe legal consequences.

A “traumatic condition” refers to a wound or bodily injury, whether minor or severe, caused directly by the use of physical force.

The term “willfully” in this context often becomes a point of discussion in child abuse cases. It essentially means that the action was intentional, not accidental.

According to the The Daily Iowan – Across the United States, 3.6 million cases of child abuse are reported every year. According to statistics reported by Child Project, one in three girls and one in five boys is sexually abused before their eighteenth birthday. Of those who are abused, only one-third of incidents are ever formally reported.

In just one year (2017), there were over 220,000 reports of child abuse and child neglect across the states of Los Angeles and Orange County.

This definition is quite wide-reaching and can encompass various scenarios, such as:

  • Striking or slapping a child in a manner that leaves visible marks.
  • Shaking a baby with such force that it leads to brain damage or other injuries.
  • Using physical force like punching, pushing, or choking against a child.
  • Purposefully causing burns from cigarettes on a child.
  • Throwing objects at a child or throwing the child itself.

As outlined by the definition in Penal Code 273d, securing a conviction for child abuse requires the prosecution to prove that you intentionally inflicted cruel and inhumane punishment upon the child. This implies that the actions went beyond what’s considered “reasonable discipline” and resulted in the child experiencing injury or trauma. In this article, we will provide a comprehensive overview of the definition of child abuse, the elements required to establish a violation of the law, examples of prohibited conduct, the penalties imposed for committing child abuse, and the potential legal defenses available in such cases.


In order to show that a defendant is responsible for child abuse, each of these elements must be proven convincingly, with no doubt left in the mind of the judge or jury:

  • The defendant intentionally inflicted harsh or inhumane physical punishment and/or caused an injury on a minor.
  • The punishment and/or injury that the defendant caused led to a severe physical condition that was traumatic.
  • At the time of their actions, the defendant’s behavior wasn’t a reasonable way of disciplining the minor.

In simpler terms, the prosecutor has to show that the defendant purposely hurt a child, resulting in a serious physical condition, and that their actions weren’t a justifiable form of discipline. This involves presenting strong evidence to convince the court that the defendant is indeed guilty of child abuse.


Sarah and John are a married couple with a 5-year-old daughter, Emma. One day, while John is playing a video game, he becomes frustrated and angry after losing. Emma accidentally spills her juice on the floor, which further aggravates John’s mood. In a fit of anger, John grabs Emma by the arm and shakes her roughly, causing her to cry in pain. Sarah witnesses this and is deeply concerned for Emma’s safety.

Under Penal Code 273D PC, which addresses child abuse through physical injury or neglect, John’s actions may be considered a form of child abuse. While John’s intention might not have been to seriously harm Emma, his actions resulted in her being physically hurt due to his negligence and recklessness.

In this scenario, John’s rough handling of Emma, which resulted in her pain and distress, could be viewed as a violation of Penal Code 273D PC, specifically for causing physical injury to a child due to neglectful or reckless behavior.

Given the circumstances, Sarah could report the incident to law enforcement or child protective services, prompting an investigation into the potential child abuse.

If John is found guilty of violating Penal Code 273D, he could face legal penalties, such as fines and possible jail time, depending on the severity of the injuries and the judge’s discretion.



PC 273d is a “wobbler” crime that can be classified as either a misdemeanor or felony offense, depending on the prosecutor’s discretion and factors like the extent of harm inflicted on the child.

  • The action displayed significant cruelty.
  • The child’s injury is notably severe.
  • The defendant holds one or multiple previous convictions linked to child abuse or similar offenses.

If the defendant is convicted of a misdemeanor child abuse case, the penalties can include a sentence of up to one year in the Los Angeles County jail and a fine of up to $6,000.

If convicted of a felony offense, the defendant could face a sentence of two, four, or six years in state prison and a fine of up to $6,000. If the defendant has a prior child abuse conviction, the jail sentence can be increased by four years.


When prior convictions are involved, the jail time escalates by four years if a previous child abuse conviction exists, unless:

  • The defendant completed any prior prison term over ten years ago.
  • The defendant hasn’t served time for any other felony offense within the past ten years.

Probation often substitutes jail time for those found guilty of child abuse in California. Regardless of whether the charge is categorized as a misdemeanor or felony, a judge can opt for probation. However, probation mandates certain conditions, some of which are obligatory, while others are discretionary.


Given the delicate nature of cases involving Penal Code 273d child abuse allegations, where the distinction between appropriate discipline and abuse can be subtle, it’s not uncommon for individuals to face wrongful child abuse charges.

A skilled Los Angeles criminal defense attorney possesses the ability to assess the case’s context and may employ one or more of these defense strategies:

  • Accidental Injury: Should you lack intent to harm the child, your attorney might argue that any resulting injury was unintentional, challenging the prosecution’s obligation to demonstrate intent for a child abuse conviction.
  • Non-Abuse Origin: Children can sustain injuries from various sources, often unbeknownst even to their guardians until the injuries manifest. Your attorney could contend that the injury didn’t arise from abusive behavior.
  • False Accusations: False allegations might be raised by aggrieved spouses or the other parent of the child, stemming from motives such as revenge, envy, or vindictiveness. Occasionally, a mandated reporter might overreact to a situation involving potential child abuse.
  • Reasonable Discipline: The defense of employing reasonable discipline can be potent, particularly if there are no evident marks or indications of injury on the child. This argument underscores that parents retain the right to discipline their children within limits, as long as the discipline doesn’t lead to serious bodily harm.

Additionally, a contentious aspect often raised to challenge child abuse accusations revolves around the issue of child discipline. While parents possess the right to employ some level of corporal punishment, it must remain within reasonable bounds and avoid causing significant bodily harm.

The application of common sense plays a pivotal role in this context. If a jury evaluates the available evidence and concludes that the discipline administered was reasonable given the circumstances, it’s likely they will return a verdict of not guilty.

In essence, cases can arise where severe or excessively aggressive forms of spanking might lead to allegations of child abuse under California law.


The conviction of Penal Code 273d PC, which pertains to child abuse in California, can have significant immigration consequences for non-U.S. citizens. These consequences are particularly important to understand given the potential impact on one’s immigration status, eligibility for visas, green cards, or potential deportation. Here are some key points to consider:

  • Deportability: Non-U.S. citizens who are convicted of certain crimes, including aggravated felonies and crimes of moral turpitude, can face deportation or removal proceedings. Depending on the circumstances, a conviction under Penal Code 273d PC could be considered a crime of moral turpitude, potentially leading to deportation.
  • Inadmissibility: A conviction for child abuse could render a non-U.S. citizen inadmissible, meaning they may be denied entry to the U.S., including for visa applications, green card applications, or even temporary visits.
  • Visa Eligibility: Non-U.S. citizens seeking certain types of visas, such as family-based or employment-based visas, may encounter difficulties if they have a child abuse conviction on their record.
  • Mistake of Fact: If you were under the mistaken belief that your actions were not endangering the child’s well-being, this “mistake of fact” could potentially be used as a defense.
  • Naturalization: For those pursuing U.S. citizenship through naturalization, a child abuse conviction could affect the good moral character requirement, which is essential for becoming a U.S. citizen.
  • Waivers and Relief: In some cases, there may be possibilities for waivers or relief from deportation or inadmissibility. However, these options are complex and require a thorough understanding of immigration law.

It’s crucial for non-U.S. citizens facing criminal charges, including child abuse under Penal Code 273d PC, to seek legal counsel from both a domestic violence defense attorney and an immigration attorney. This approach can help navigate the potential immigration consequences and determine the best course of action to minimize the impact on immigration status.

To know more about domestic violence charges expungement, check out our detailed blog: Can Domestic Violence Charges Be Expunged in California?


Child abuse falls within the scope of California’s Three Strikes law in certain cases. A felony child abuse conviction becomes a designated “strike” under this law if the abuse led to “great bodily injury” for the minor involved.

Having one strike on a defendant’s criminal record results in a twofold increase in the sentence for any subsequent felony conviction.

Furthermore, if an individual accumulates convictions for three distinct “strike offenses,” they become subject to an obligatory minimum sentence of 25 years to life within the confines of California state prison.


If you are seeking legal representation for a child abuse case, you may consider hiring Cyrus Tabibnia, a knowledgeable child abuse defense attorney with a strong background in handling such cases. Mr. Cyrus Tabibnia’s expertise could provide valuable assistance in navigating the complexities of child abuse charges and related legal matters.

It’s advisable to contact Tabibnia Law Firm to discuss your specific case. Remember to provide all relevant information about your case during your initial consultation.

Tabibnia Law Firm is has office in Santa Monica and the Valley and serves clients throughout Southern California. Call us at 866-713-2159 for a confidential initial consultation, or you can complete and send us your query through the contact form.

Cyrus Tabibnia

Cyrus Tabibnia

Tabibnia Law Firm retains years of experience successfully representing individuals charged with misdemeanor and felony crimes,Theft Crimes, Crime Against Children, Driving Crimes, Rape Crimes, driving under the influence (DUIs), domestic violence cases, drug possession cases, state and federal crimes, white color crimes, driving on a suspended license offenses, violent crimes, sex crimes, Forgery and all other criminal defense cases throughout Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Orange County, San Fernando Valley, Ventura County, Riverside County, San Bernardino, Van Nuys, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills. An expungement attorney in Los Angeles who can assist you in clearing your criminal record in the state of California. Call for a consultation today: 866-713-2159

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