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Willful Child Endangerment
Law, Penalty & Defense

PC 273a(a) Crimes

Information on willful child endangerment is found at penal code sections 273a(a) and 273a(b).

PC 273a(a) Law

PC 273a(a): Any person, who willfully causes or permits any child to suffer unjustifiable physical pain, injury, or mental suffering, or willfully causes or permits that child to be placed in a situation where the child is likely to suffer great bodily injury or death, or the health of the child is endangered, is guilty of the crime of willfully endangering the health of a child  [PC 273a(a) Abbr.].

PC 273a(b): Any person who, under circumstances or conditions other than those likely to produce great bodily harm or death, willfully causes or permits any child to suffer, or inflicts thereon unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering, or having the care or custody of any child, willfully causes or permits the person or health of that child to be injured, or willfully causes or permits that child to be placed in a situation where his or her person or health may be endangered, is guilty of willfully endangering the health of a child [PC 273a(b) Abbr.].

Note: The difference between PC 273a(b) and 273a(b) is that PC 273a(a) requires the district attorney to prove a child suffered unjustifiable injury or was likely to suffer great bodily injury (GBI). PC 273a(b) requires the district attorney to prove that a child suffered ordinary injury, or was likely to suffer ordinary injury.

Intent Not Required: Willful child endangerment is not a specific intent crime. This means that the defendant does not need to purposefully place a child in danger to be charged with a PC 273a crime. Recklessness or gross negligence is all that is required.

Injury Not Required: Willful child endangerment means that the defendant either unjustifiably injured a child, or placed the child in a situation that was likely to produce harm. It does not matter if the child was actually harmed in order to prove willful child endangerment.


PC 273a Definitions

Probable Injury: The work "likely" in the phrase "likely to produce great bodily injury or death," means highly probable.

Great bodily injury (GBI):  Great bodily injury, or GBI, means injury that is more than ordinary or substantial injury, including death, broken bones, injuries that leaves scars, and concussions.

Child or Minor: A child, for purposes of PC 273a, means anyone under the age of 18 (even if the child is otherwise emancipated).

Recklessness: Recklessness means conduct greater than ordinary negligence. Recklessness is subjective carelessness or disregard for the safety of a child.

Common PC 273a situations:

  • DUI with a child in the vehicle

  • Leaving a child in a car

  • Assaulting a person that is holding a baby 

  • Allowing a child to play with a loaded firearm

  • Allowing minors to have alcohol or drugs

  • Leaving a baby without a babysitter

  • Leave a young child unattended in a pool

  • Unreasonable corporal punishment


Sentence for PC 273a

PC 273a(a): Child abuse, or willful child endangerment, that is likely to cause great bodily injury (GBI), may be charged as a misdemeanor or as a felony. If found guilty of misdemeanor PC 273a(a), the defendant could face up to one year in the county jail. If found guilty of felony PC 237a(a) the defendant could face up to six years in prison.

PC 273a(b): Child abuse, or willful child endangerment, that is likely to cause ordinary injury, is charged as a misdemeanor. If found guilty of PC 273a(b), the defendant may face up to six months in the county jail.

Good Conduct Credits: If the defendant is convicted of PC 273a(a), or 273a(b), and he or she is sentenced to jail or prison (no grant of probation), the defendant may earn up to fifty percent (50%) credit off his or her sentence for good behavior while in custody (absent prior strike convictions).

Three Strikes Law: Wilfull child endangerment is not a strike crime under California's Three Stikes Law.


Probation Sentence: A probation sentence is a period of supervision instead of an actual jail or prison sentence. Probation sentences have terms of probation that must be followed in order to avoid further punishment, including actual jail or prison. Probation for felony PC 273a(a) convictions is considered formal, which means that the defendant is monitored by probation officer. Probation for misdemeanor PC 273a(a) or 273a(b) convictions is considered informal or summary, which means the defendant is not supervised by a probation officer. Probation sentences are available in some willful child endangerment cases depending on the facts of the case and the defendant's criminal history.


If the defendant is granted probation the court will also require the following minimum conditions:

  • A mandatory minimum period of probation of 48 months (PC 273a(c)(1)).

  • A criminal protective order (CPO) protecting the victim from further acts of violence or threats, and, if appropriate, residence exclusion or stay-away conditions (PC 273(c)(2)).

  • Successful completion of no less than one year of a child abuser’s treatment counseling program, with quarterly progress reports, approved by the probation department. (PC 273(c)(3)(A).

  • If the offense was committed while the defendant was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the defendant will be ordered to abstain from the use of drugs or alcohol during the period of probation (PC 273a(c)(4)).

Note: Probation sentences may include a "Jail" sentence, but jail sentences that are ordered as a term of probation are always less than a year and are usually served on house arrest or work release. Also, the court may waive any of the above minimum conditions of probation upon a finding that the condition would not be in the best interests of justice.

Suspended Sentence: The crime of willful child endangerment (PC 273a(a)) does not qualify for a suspended prison sentences (aka joint suspension), or a split prison sentence. This means that if the defendant is found guilty of PC 273a(a) as a felony, and the defendant is not granted a probation sentence, the defendant must serve an actual prison sentence (as opposed to a county jail sentence), and no part of that sentence may be split (half in prison and half out of prison on work release or house arrest) or suspended (not served unless there is a violation of probation).

Immigration Issues: Non U.S. citizens convicted of willfully endangering a child may be deported or denied reentry into the United States. Whether or not a defendant will be deported depends largely on the immigrant's criminal history, the sentence received, the recital of facts in the record of conviction, and any applicable immigration waivers

Note: PC 273a(a) and 273a(b) may be considered crimes involving moral turpitude if child abuse is found. For more information, see immigration consequences.

Professional Licensing: Licensed professionals, including doctors, lawyers, teachers, nurses, therapists, etc., who are charged with child abuse or willfully endangering the health of a child, may be disciplined by their respective state licensing agencies (Bar, Board, Commission, etc.). Discipline may include suspension or revocation of a professional license, probation, or other punishment.

Collateral Punishment: In addition to the punishments listed above, if found guilty of willful child endangerment, the defendant may suffer any of the following: fines and fees, loss of rights to child custody or visitation, loss of the right to own or possess firearms, restitution to victims, CPS investigations, listing on the Child Abuse Central Index (CACI), criminal protective orders, and more.

Defenses to PC 273a

Common defenses to PC 273a crimes include: insufficient evidence, mistake of fact, emergency, statute of limitations, coerced confessions, illegal search and seizure, insanity, severe intoxication (except in connection with crimes that involve alcohol or drugs, such as DUI, Drunk in Public, etc.), self-defense, and more.


If you or a loved one is accused of child abuse, or willful child endangerment (PC 273a(a) and 273a(b)), contact our experienced criminal defense attorneys today for a free consultation. Our criminal defense attorneys are always available to explain your rights and defense options. Call today!


Quick Legal Reference​

Crime: Willful Child Endangerment

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

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


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

Probation: Probation may be available in PC 273a(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.​

PC 1170(h)): No. PC 273a(a) is not subject to PC 1170(h) sentencing. This means that any incarceration ordered after a conviction, that is not part of a probation sentence, must be served in state prison (not county jail), and the prison sentence may not be split or suspended.

Strike: PC 273a(a) is not a strike offense listed in California's Three Strikes law.

Credits: 50% good conduct credits available.

CIMT: PC 273a(a) is not a crime involving moral turpitude.


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

Bail: $100,000 (San Bernardino County)

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Related Crimes

  • PC 273a(b): Child abuse causing injury

  • PC 273ab: Assault on a child under 8 causing death

  • PC 273a(a): Abusing a child

  • PC 273d(a): Cruel or inhuman corporal punishment

  • PC 271: Abandon a child under 14

  • PC 271a: Failure to provide for a child under 14

  • PC 272(a)(1): Contribute to a minor's delinquency


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