Child Abuse

Allegations of child abuse are frightening and carry serious potential consequences. Attorney Richard M. Oberto has a long track record of helping clients to evaluate the evidence, formulate the best legal strategies, and achieve the best legal outcomes.

California law defines different child abuse offenses according to the age of the child, the nature of the abuse, and the nature of the harm inflicted. Allegations can range from gross negligence and willful endangerment to assaultive crimes and battery. A “child” is defined as anyone younger than 18 years of age.

Penal Code sections 273a and 273d

California law defines misdemeanor and felony crimes of child abuse. All of the crimes carry the potential for imprisonment, substantial fines, a mandatory 52-week treatment program, imposition of a criminal protective order, and other restrictions.

The crime of misdemeanor child abuse is defined in Penal Code section 273a(b). It carries a maximum of six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

The crime of inflicting unjustifiable physical punishment on a child is defined in Penal Code section 273d(a). The crime of child abuse likely to cause great bodily injury or death is defined in Penal Code section 273a(a). Both crimes are “wobbler” offenses, which means they can be charged as felonies or misdemeanors. As felonies, they carry a maximum imprisonment term of two, four, or six years or one year in the county jail. As misdemeanors, they carry a maximum jail term of one year. The fine can for a violation of section 273d(a) can be as high as $6,000.

The crime of assault causing death of a child is defined in Penal Code section 273ab(a). It is punishable as a felony and carries a sentence of 25 years to life in prison.

A person charged with a child abuse crime can be subject to an Emergency Protective Order even when there has been no finding of guilt. If convicted, the person also can be subject to a long-term Criminal Protective Order. The orders can have disabling effects on a person’s ability to live in his home, see his family, and access his property. The orders also place restrictions on a person’s Second Amendment Rights.

Parental Right to Discipline Child

Parents have the right to use justifiable force and justifiable methods to discipline their children. A parent who was exercising a legitimate right to discipline his child cannot be found guilty of child abuse. Discipline is legally justified if a reasonable person would have found (a) that punishment was necessary and (b) that the physical force or other method used was reasonable. The prosecution has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that a parent was not exercising his parental right to discipline his child.

There is no bright-line rule that identifies specific methods of parental discipline and deems them to be child abuse. The question of whether parental discipline crossed the line into child abuse is typically left for the attorneys to assist the judge or jury in interpreting. The question may raise complicated questions about personal values and cultural norms. A judge or juror may have to accept that the punishment in question was not unreasonable even if he personally would not have elected to punish the child or use the method of punishment at issue.


A variety of defenses might be applicable in a child abuse cases. Defenses may include accident, lack of injury or harm, lack of intent, lack of criminal negligence, parental right to discipline child, harm caused by someone else, and other grounds. The prosecution always has the burden of proving child abuse allegations beyond a reasonable doubt.

Prosecutors have sometimes invoked a theory of Shaken Baby Syndrome as a basis for child abuse allegations. Some of those allegations have prompted scientific experts and public officials to express serious doubts about whether the theory accounted for a child's injuries. If the issue arises in a case, a person should discuss the scientific literature and legal issues with an attorney.

Experienced Legal Representation

Mr. Oberto has a great breadth of experience in criminal defense. He has taken over thirty criminal and civil trials to jury verdict. He is well-suited to provide expert legal advice in the most difficult cases.

Mr. Oberto welcomes people to contact him 24/7 at (559) 221-2557 to request an initial consultation. Se habla Espanol.

People also may contact Mr. Oberto to request an initial consultation using the contact form available on this website. Please do not use the contact form to write down sensitive information. Information communicated over the internet, including through this website, may not be considered confidential or privileged.

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