Child endangerment involves endangering the life or health of a child, usually because of the recklessness or carelessness of an adult. In California, child endangerment charges can be a felony or misdemeanor. The state defines child endangerment in three ways.

What are the Three Ways California Defines Endangering Children?

The three ways are as follows:

  • To allow or cause a child to suffer unjustifiable mental anguish or physical pain;
  • To permit or willfully cause a child in the defendant’s care is injured; or
  • To permit or willfully cause any child to be placed in a dangerous situation.

What Does “Willfully” Mean?

In California, willfully is defined as doing an act on purpose or without being forced. The law doesn’t require a defendant to intend to cause harm to a child or break the law. 

What Does Dangerous Situation Refer To?

The state broadly defines a dangerous situation to include:

  • Negligently leaving any child with anyone who has a history of abusive conduct
  • Leaving any type of dangerous weapons
  • Not getting necessary medical attention for the child

Is Reckless Endangerment the Same as Child Endangerment?

No. Reckless endangerment involves showing a disregard for human life and safety of other people, including children.

When Is Child Endangerment a Felony?

In California, the charge of child endangerment is a wobbler. So whether a defendant is charged with a felony or misdemeanor depends on the surrounding circumstances.

To be charged with a felony requires great bodily harm, meaning a substantial or significant injuries, including death. The punishment for felony child endangerment can be 2 to 6 years in prison.

When Is Child Endangerment a Misdemeanor?

A defendant will be charged with misdemeanor child endangerment so long as the child does not experience great bodily harm or dies. A misdemeanor child endangerment is punishable by up to 1 year in jail.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Represent Me Regarding a Child Endangerment Charge?

Yes. Contact a California criminal lawyer to better understand and fight this charge.