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PC 273A(B)-M: Willful Cruelty to Child: Law, Penalty, & Defense. California Criminal Defense Lawyers

Information on the crime of willful cruelty to child is found at California penal code section 273a(b). This summary describes the basic laws, penalties, and common defenses related to PC 273a(b). For further information, contact our criminal defense attorneys today for a free consultation.

Note: PC 273a(b) and PC 273ab appear very similar on paper, but these similar-appearing California penal code sections describe two very different crimes: PC 273a(b) is the misdemeanor crime of willful cruelty to child; PC 273ab is the felony crime of assault on a child under eight years old causing death. This summary relates only to the misdemeanor crime of willful cruelty to child, or PC 273a(b).

PC 273a(b) Law

Per 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 a child to suffer… 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 willful cruelty to child (PC 273a(b) Abbrev.).

For purposes of penal code 273a(b), a “child” is any person under the age of eighteen (18).

Injury Not Required: The child does not need to be injured for a defendant to be charged with a violation of penal code 273a(b), so long as the child was placed in a situation where the child’s health is endangered to an objectively unreasonable level.

Example: Defendant is driving drunk while his six-year-old daughter is buckled into the backseat. Defendant is pulled over for DUI and arrested. Result: Defendant may be charged with both DUI and willful cruelty to child. This is because it is a violation of PC 273a(b) to ‘willfully permits a child to be placed in a situation where the child’s health may be endangered.’

PC 273a(b) Penalties

Jail Sentence: PC 273a(b) is classified as a misdemeanor. If found guilty of willful cruelty to child, the defendant may face up to 180 days in the county jail (Maximum jail sentence).

Note: Any jail sentence related to a conviction for willful cruelty to a child may be reduced by up to fifty percent (50%) if the defendant serves his jail sentence with “good behavior.” Thus, a jail sentence of ninety (90) days, which is imposed on the defendant after a conviction for PC 273a(b), will result in only forty-five (45) days in custody, if the defendant serves those forty-five (45) days of jail with “good behavior” (i.e., “good conduct”).

Probation Sentence: A probation sentence is a period of supervision, as opposed to an actual jail sentence. A probation sentence is allowed in PC 273a(b) cases, but a probation sentence is not guaranteed after a conviction of PC 273a(b).

Whether the defendant receives a probation sentence after a conviction of PC 273a(b) depends on many factors, including the defendant’s criminal history, the harm caused to the child (if any), the level of sophistication used in the offense, the terms of any plea agreement between the defendant and the district attorney (or judge), and more.

Terms of Probation: A probation sentence after a conviction for willful cruelty to child, if allowed, is monitored by the court (aka “court probation”). The probation sentence will be conditioned upon the defendant fulfilling “terms of probation,” or ‘conditions of probation.’ If the defendant does not fulfill the terms of probation, then his probation sentence will be violated, and he may be sentenced to jail. For more information, see Probation Violations.

Note: If the defendant is convicted of violating PC 273a(b), and probation is granted, the court shall require the following minimum conditions of probation:

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

A criminal court protective order (CPO) protecting the victim from further acts of violence or threats, and, if appropriate, residence exclusion or stay-away conditions (PC 273a(c)(2)). For more information, see Criminal Protective Orders.

Successful completion of no less than one year of a child abuser’s treatment counseling program approved by the probation department. The defendant shall be ordered to begin participation in the program immediately upon the grant of probation... The defendant shall produce documentation of program enrollment to the court within 30 days of enrollment, along with quarterly progress reports (PC 273a(c)(3)(A) Abbrev.).

The terms of probation for offenders shall not be lifted until all reasonable fees due to the counseling program have been paid in full.... If the court finds that the defendant does not have the ability to pay the fees based on the defendant’s changed circumstances, the court may reduce or waive the fees (PC 273a(b)(3)(B) Abbrev.)).

If the offense was committed while the defendant was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the defendant shall abstain from the use of drugs or alcohol during the period of probation and shall be subject to random drug testing by his or her probation officer (PC 273a(b)(4)).

Note: 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. The court shall state on the record its reasons for any waiver (PC 273a(b)(5)).

Work Release: Work release is a form of manual labor which involves having a probationer pick up trash around jails and highways. It is not uncommon for a PC 273a(b) probation sentence to include a term of work release.

Example: John is convicted of willful cruelty to a child after he accidentally leaves his seven-year-old child in a vehicle without supervision while John visits the barber. The judge grants John a probation sentence because John has no criminal history, and the child was not harmed. As a term of probation, the judge orders several conditions, including a work release term of ninety (90) days.

Immigration Consequences: Willful cruelty to child is not a crime involving moral turpitude. Also, PC 273a(b) crimes are not classified as “deportable” offenses, other than their effect on immigration status as a misdemeanor offense. For more information, see Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude & Immigration Consequences for Criminal Convictions.

CACI Listing: A conviction for willful cruelty to child may result in a defendant’s name being listed in the Child Abuse Central Index (CACI). The CACI is an index used by law enforcement and California licensing agencies to verify a person’s status as a possible child abuser perpetrator (PC 11165.3). CACI information is not available to the public.

Additional Penalties: In addition to a possible jail or probation sentence, a defendant convicted of penal code 273a(b) may suffer any of the following: court fines and fees, professional licensing consequences, military service consequences, restitution orders, family law consequences (i.e., child custody, child visitation, adoption, etc.), and more.

PC 273a(b) Defenses

Common defenses to PC 273a(b) violations include insufficient evidence to prove guilt of negligence conduct, illegal search and seizure, Miranda Rights violations, coerced confessions, statute of limitations, insanity defense, and more.

For further information on the crime of willful cruelty to child, or California penal code 273a(b), contact our successful and passionate criminal defense attorneys for a free consultation. Our award-winning attorneys, including winning trail attorneys, handle all misdemeanor and felony criminal charges arising out of the cities of Redlands, Rancho Cucamonga, Yucaipa, San Bernardino, Ontario, Victorville, Rialto, Riverside, Fontana, & more. Call today!


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PC273A(B)-M: Willful Cruelty to Child: Law, Penalty, & Defense


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