Penal Code Section 273d –Child Abuse

Child abuse is a punishable offense u/s 273d of California Penal Code (CPC). Injuring a child physically, emotionally, and mentally is referred to as Child abuse. This section specifically deals with physical child abuse.

When an action is considered as illegal and subject to punishment under this section?

· If any action results in a cruel or inhuman punishment

· If any action results in traumatic condition* upon a child

· If the reasonable act of discipline wasn’t carried out

*traumatic conditions refer to any wound or injury which is a result of direct application of physical force. This means that slapping a child which leaves the marks is also punishable under this section. However, the section contains a clause that punishment should have been given ‘willfully’ which means if parents didn’t intend to hit the child, however, he fell or smashed his head accidentally then it is not punishable if proven.

Similar to insurance contracts where the insured has to prove the proximate cause of damage, this law also requires proof that a traumatic condition was a natural, direct, and substantial factor resulting in injury.


· Minor/Misdemeanor: One year of free stay in county jail along with a monetary fine up to $6000.

· Felony: In addition to fine mentioned above, jail term in felony degree of crime can range between 2 & 6 years and can extend by 4 years if the defendant has any similar conviction history in preceding 10 years.

· The judiciary may also mandatorily enroll the defendant into child abuser’s treatment program for at least one year

Examples of Child abuse

Please note that below are only examples and not an exhaustive list. The law has given power in hands of jury members to weigh the extent of physical punishment given to children and decide if it is abusive or not.

Hitting with a belt or anything else, choking, shaking, burning, slapping, punching, pushing, smashing, kicking, throwing an object on a child, or throwing child.

Nearly all acts of hurting a child physically are covered under the above sub-sections.

Does this mean I can’t even scold my child?

No, the law punishes anything which is inhuman. If you are scolding or spanking your child with reasonable discipline, you won’t be punished. Any sort of physical punishment should not create traumatic physical injury to the child.

Available Defenses

Child abuse can result in very harsh punishment and unfortunately, many people have been falsely charged under this section due to hasty assumptions. If you are also charged under this law, then reach out to us at and we will help you with your case. Available defenses are as below:

1. Accidental Injury: it is possible that you might be playing with your kid when s/he accidentally got an injury. Lawyers can help prove the cause to the judiciary for correct evaluation.

2. Reasonable discipline: if we can prove the reasonableness of the degree of your discipline using references of previous judgments, then you can save yourself from false allegations.

As criminal defense lawyers, we believe that justice is our prime motto, and punishment to any innocent person is stigmatic for the judiciary!

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