Corporal injury on a child is a specific form of child abuse and is considered a criminal offense. According to the California State Penal Code, “corporal injury on a child” can be defined as an intentional or deliberate act to inflict serious bodily harm on a child that results in a traumatic condition. Under this statute, the term “child” refers to any minor who is below the age of 18. 

For example, a parent who punishes their child in a way that is found to be cruel or injures the child so as to cause a traumatic condition to occur can face serious legal consequences, such as a term of imprisonment and/or being stripped of some or all of their parental rights. Thus, while a single incident of lightly spanking a child will not constitute this offense, repeatedly hitting the child hard or with an object could lead to severe legal penalties. 

Is Child Abuse the Same as Corporal Injury on a Child?

As briefly mentioned above, corporal injury to a child is a specific form of child abuse. It may involve actions, such as pushing, choking, shaking, or burning a child. When a defendant is charged with committing corporal injury to a child, the prosecution will need to prove the following elements to secure a conviction:

  • That the defendant willfully inflicted cruel or inhuman physical punishment or injury on a child; and
  • That the punishment or injury resulted in a traumatic condition (e.g., broken bones, internal bleeding, concussion, etc.). 

Although this offense is classified as a type of domestic violence crime, the two should not be confused with one another. Thus, it is important to note the difference between the elements for corporal injury on a child and domestic violence.

In a standard domestic violence case, the prosecutor will only need to show that a harmful or offensive touching occurred (i.e., a simple battery incident). In a case involving corporal injury on a child, however, the prosecutor must prove actual physical injury resulted from the act. Accordingly, a charge for domestic violence is considered the less serious crime of the two, but both can still lead to a conviction for a felony offense. 

How Will the State Show “Traumatic Physical Condition”?

In order to show that a traumatic physical condition resulted from a punishment or injury, the prosecution must prove that:

  • The wound or other bodily injury was caused by the punishment inflicted on the child;
  • The traumatic condition was a direct and substantial factor in creating their injury; and
  • The condition would not have occurred without the defendant’s actions.

Some types of evidence that may be used to prove the element of traumatic physical condition include:

  • A muscle sprain, fracture, broken bones, and various other physical injuries;
  • Medical reports and hospital bills associated with the resulting injury;
  • Physical objects (e.g., if a bat or belt was used to inflict the injury); 
  • Testimony from witnesses; 
  • Photos or video of the incident; and/or
  • Any other documents or evidence that show the defendant was the person responsible for creating the injuries by using direct physical force.

Is Child Abuse in California a Misdemeanor or Felony?

Corporal injury on a child is considered a wobbler offense. A wobbler offense is a crime that can be punished as either a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the facts of a case. Being charged with a wobbler crime also means that the prosecutor or judge will have discretion to choose whether the defendant is charged with a misdemeanor or felony offense. 

For example, a defendant who is charged with committing corporal injury on a child may be convicted of a misdemeanor offense if they have no prior criminal history, it was a one-time incident, and the act was something like a hard slap. On the other hand, a defendant will be found guilty of a felony if they are a repeat offender, have abused the child more than one time, and used a weapon to punish the child.  

Some other factors they may use to determine whether the defendant should be charged with a misdemeanor or felony include the severity of the injury, the type of medical attention required, and the level of pain inflicted. 

Lastly, even if a prosecutor requests to charge the defendant with a misdemeanor offense, a judge has authority under state law to impose a harsher punishment. Additionally, a defendant can also petition to have their penalties reduced. 

What Are the Legal Consequences of Corporal Injury to a Child in California?

A defendant who is convicted of committing corporal injury on a child in California may face a number of potential consequences and punishments. These options will vary based on the charges. For instance, a defendant who is charged and convicted of a misdemeanor offense may need to pay a fine of no greater than $6,000, be placed on probation, and/or serve time in a county jail for up to one year. 

On the other hand, a defendant who is charged and convicted of a felony offense may be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of four years or longer, be fined a maximum of $6,000, and/or be placed on formal probation. 

Additionally, if a defendant is placed on probation, the court must impose minimum conditions on their probation period as prescribed by the law. These conditions include a mandatory minimum probation period of 36 months (i.e., 3 years), no less than a year enrolled in a treatment program for child abusers, and may order that a defendant be subject to random drug tests if they were impaired during the incident. 

The court may also issue a protective order to prevent further harm from being done to the victim. This means that if the defendant is the child’s parent, they will not be allowed to visit or take custody of the child until they complete their punishments and the protection order is lifted.

Is the Punishment Harsher If Someone Has a Prior Child Abuse Conviction?

A defendant who has a prior criminal record is known as a “repeat offender”. In general, repeat offenders typically receive harsher punishments for additional convictions. Thus, a defendant who has a prior child abuse conviction will receive a harsher punishment for committing corporal injury on a child. 

According to the state statute, a defendant who is convicted of this crime for a second time will be sentenced to an additional four years in prison, on top of the original prison sentence that a judge would issue for a first-time offender. 

Should I Contact a Lawyer about My Case?

If you have been accused of committing corporal injury on a child, it is strongly recommended that you contact a California criminal lawyer as soon as possible. An experienced criminal lawyer will be able to determine whether there are any defenses you can raise against the charges. Your lawyer can also help you prepare your case and ensure that your rights as a criminal defendant are receiving proper protection in accordance with the law. 

In addition, your lawyer can explain the stages of your case, discuss the potential punishments you may receive if you are convicted, and can answer any questions you have regarding your final sentencing. If you are a first-time offender or the facts of your case would support a request for a lesser penalty, your lawyer can also petition the court to reduce your sentence.