Discipline is one of the most crucial conventions a parent should teach to their child. However, too much of it can prove destructive rather than constructive. Hence, California Penal Code PC 273d makes it illegal for parents to use excessive physical force to punish a child. However, there are several key elements for what constitutes an “unreasonable punishment”. A parent punching a child hard enough to leave a mark on his body, for instance, is an example of child abuse. By definition of the law, an act is only considered child abuse if:
- The punishment is unjustifiable for the mistake the child committed;
- The punishment results in physical trauma;
- The punishment directly endangers the child's health; and
- The punishment was willfully enacted to injure the child.
It is important to take that malicious intent should be present for it to be called abuse, whether or not the parent/guardian/teacher is aware of its unlawfulness. For example, a mother learns from the school principal that her son has been stealing other people's possessions. As punishment, the mother commands his son to lay both of his hands on the table. She only intends to smack his hands lightly with a ruler, but since he kept moving and leaned himself forward, she accidentally slaps her son's face instead. Since children's facial structures are more fragile, the slap left a bruise on his cheek. At first glance, it may seem like the mother is guilty of child abuse. However, because it was not her intention to slap her son on the face or leave a mark on him, she cannot be subjected to penalties under PC 273d.
Furthermore, the method of punishment should be appropriate depending on what the child did in the first place. If the child steals a chocolate bar, for instance, it would not be reasonable to beat him up. In fact, no matter the context, it will never be reasonable to beat up a child. With regard to the question of whether it is legal to hit your child with a belt or any other object, the answer is yes. Of course, this is if, and only if, the force applied is not excessive and is tolerable by the child.
For further reference, California also has other relevant statutes in the subject of child abuse and/or discipline:
- California Penal Code PC 273a
- California Penal Code PC 273ab
- California Penal Code PC 270
Punishments for Violating California Penal Code PC 273d
Violation of PC 273d is a “wobbler” offense. In other words, the accused may either face a felony or a misdemeanor charge.
If the court rules it a felony offense, the penalties are listed below:
- 2, 4, or 6 years of a prison sentence; the judge has the complete jurisdiction of the sentence
- A fine of up to $6,000.
If the court rules it a misdemeanor offense, the penalties are listed below:
- Jail time of 1 year
- A fine of up to $6,000
Additional penalties may be imposed by the court, especially if the accused is found to be guilty on more than one penal code. For instance, if the defendant has been thrown to jail for child abuse before the main incident, the judge may increase the jail time by 4 years. Meanwhile, probation may be granted, but conditions will apply.
Truly, there is nothing more tragic for a loving parent than being accused of hurting and abusing their own child. Remember that California mandates professors, health workers, social workers, and police officers to report potential child abuse victims. If they fail to do so, then they will be charged accordingly. Hence, we cannot deny the fact that there are some instances where these individuals wrongfully accuse parents/guardians. If such a case happens to you, here are your possible defenses:
- Allegations are founded on false information;
- The damage was caused by something else;
- The punishment imposed upon the child was reasonable; and
- The parent/guardian did not plan to hurt the child.
Even after knowing this information, it is still highly advised for you to consult with your local defense attorney, or more specifically, lawyers who specialize in child abuse. With more than 40 years of experience in the state of California, the Law Office of Raoul Severo is at your disposal to enlighten you about California's child abuse laws and fight on your behalf.
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