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Child Cruelty Law, Sentence & Defense
PC 273d(a) Crimes

Information on the crime of child cruelty is found at California penal code section 273d(a). The crime of child cruelty is somewhat similar to, but different than, willful child endangerment. Child cruelty involves some affirmative act towards the child and is usually connected to corporal punishment, whereas willful child endangerment is charged where there is neglect for a child's safety, which puts the child in danger.

Child Cruelty Law
PC 273d(a): Any person who willfully inflicts upon a child any cruel or inhuman corporal punishment or an injury resulting in a traumatic condition is guilty of child cruelty (Abbreviated).
PC 273d(a) Punishment
PC 273d(a): Inflict cruel and unusual punishment on a child, is charged as a felony or a misdemeanor. If convicted of felony PC 273d(a), the defendant could face up to six years in jail; if found guilty of misdemeanor PC 273d(a), the defendant could face up to one year in the county jail.

PC 273d(b): Any person who is found guilty of violating child cruelty (PC 273d(a)) shall receive a four-year enhancement for a prior conviction of that offense... (Abbreviated) [With some limitations].

Probation Sentence: A probation sentence, is a period of supervision (at least 3 years in PC 273d(a) cases), as opposed to a jail sentence. Probation is allowed in child cruelty cases, but it is not guaranteed. Whether or not a defendant will be granted a probation sentence after a conviction for PC 273d(a) depends largely on the facts of the case and the defendant's criminal history.

Note: If drugs or alcohol was used in connection with the child cruelty allegations then the court will usually order that the defendant abstain from drugs or alcohol as part of his or her probation; however, the court may waive any conditions of probation upon a finding that the condition would not be in the best interests of justice.

PC 1170(h): California law allows child cruelty jail sentence to be served in a local county jail (as opposed to a state prison). Also, if the court permits, any jail sentence may be split (served partially in jail and partially out of jail on work release or house arrest), or suspended (not served unless the defendant violates a condition ofor her his orher out of custody sentence).

CIMT: The crime of inflict cruel or unusual punishment on a child is a crime involving moral turpitude, which means the crime is considered to be morally wrong. Crime involving moral turpitude can have severe negative impacts on a person's immigration status or professional license.

CPS Actions: When a person is accused of child cruelty pursuant to PC 273d(a) the Department of Child Protection Services (CPS) usually gets involved. Thereafter, CPS can petition the juvenile dependency court to terminate a parent or caretaker's custodial rights. CPS will also endeavor to add the defendant's name to the Child Abuse Central Index (CACI). This is one of the reasons it is so important to retain a criminal defense attorney with family law court experience.

In addition to any jail sentence, if found guilty of the crime of inflicting cruel and unusual punishment on a child, the defendant could be punished in the following ways: mandatory child abuse counseling classes (may be waived in the interest of justice), fine and fees, restitution, criminal protective orders, domestic violence restraining order (DVRO) issued from the family law court, termination of parental rights from the juvenile dependency court, loss the right to adopt a child, firearm prohibition, professional or immigration consequences, and more.

PC 273d(a) Defense

Common defenses to a charge of inflict cruel or unusual punishment on a child include: insufficient evidence to prove every element of the charge (Namely, that the punishment served on a child was reasonable in light of the child's age, physical build, mental ability, and level of wrong doing), intoxication, insanity, defense of others, self-defense (unusual unless the minor child is near the age of majority (18)), mistake of fact (as to the child's age) and more.


Note: Corporal punishment​ is physical punishment, which is intended to cause physical pain to a person (usually a child), especially in home or school. Common methods include spanking or paddling. Corporal punishment has also historically been used on adults, particularly on prisoners and enslaved people. Corporal punishment is permissible in California if it used against a child in a reasonable manner considering all of the circumstances and does not cause injury that would require medical attention.
Bail: In most cases of child cruelty allegations, the defendant will be required to post a bail bond in order to remain out of custody pending the court's disposition of the case. In felony PC 273d(a) cases the bail amount is $50,000 and in misdemeanor cases the bail amount is $5,000 (San Bernadino County).


If you have been arrested or charged with the crime of inflict cruel or unusual punishment on a child, or PC 273d(a),  contact out criminal defense lawyers today for a free consultation. Our law firm includes both criminal defense and family law attorneys familiar with child cruelty cases and we have successfully handled hundreds of child abuse cases. Call Today!



Quick Legal Reference​

Crime: Inflict Cruel & Unusual Punishment on a Child

Code: PC 273d(a) (CalCrim No. 821 & 823)

Wobbler: Yes. PC 273d(a) is a wobbler; This means that PC 273d(a) may be charged as a felony or as a misdemeanor.


Incarceration:Felony PC 273d(a) jail sentence range: 2, 4 or 6 years (if probation not granted). Misdemeanor sentence up to 1 year in jail.

Probation: Probation is available in PC 273d(a) cases (assuming other crimes or enhancements that bar a probation sentence are not present). Whether or not a probation sentence is offered by the District Attorney, or granted by the court, depends on several factors, including the defendant's criminal history and the facts of the case.​​

Work Release or House Arrest: In some cases, a probation sentence can include actual in-custody county jail, house arrest (electronic monitoring), or work release (or some combination of these penalties); however, most in-custody jail sentence orders that are required as a terms of probation are much shorter than the maximum jail sentence.

PC 1170(h)): Yes. PC 273d(a) is subject to PC 1170(h) sentencing. This means that any jail or prison sentence may be:

  • Split (half in-custody / half out-of-custody)

  • Suspended (possibly never served)

  • Served in county jail (not state prison)

  • Note: Limitations may apply

Strike: PC 273d(a) is a strike offense per California's Three Strikes law as it is a Serious offense (PC 1192.7). Strike offenses are subject to reduced good time credits in jail or prison and other penalty enhancements upon subsequent criminal convictions.

Credits: 50% good conduct credits available.

CIMT: PC 273d(a) is a crime involving moral turpitude, which means that an arrest or conviction could lead to the following:

  • Immigration problems

  • Professional Licensing problems

  • Impeachment on credibility


Firearms: Felony PC 273d(a) convictions prohibit defendant from owning or possessing a firearm.

Bail: $50,000 (Felony); $5,000 (Misdemeanor) (San Bernardino)

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