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Is it illegal to spank your child in California?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Jun 21, 2019 | 0 Comments

adult spanking child
No, it is not illegal to spank your child

No, it is not illegal to spank your child in California. The spanking, however, cannot be excessive and must be for disciplinary reasons.

Excessive or unreasonable spanking could lead to accusations of child abuse, the opening of a juvenile dependency case, and the filing of criminal charges.

In California, child abuse occurs under Penal Code section 273d when a person:

  • willfully inflicts upon a child any cruel or inhuman corporal punishment, or
  • inflicts an injury resulting in a traumatic condition.

A traumatic condition is a wound or other bodily injury caused by the direct application of physical force.

An injury is inflicted willfully if the act causing the injury is done on purpose. It is not necessary that the person intended to break the law or injure the child.

Child abuse under PC273d can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor.

If charged as a felony, child abuse is punishable by:

  • two, four, or six years in jail,
  • a $6,000 fine.

If charged as a misdemeanor, child abuse is punishable by:

  • one-year in county jail,
  • a $6,000 fine.

In California there are mandatory reporting laws that require certain professions to report suspected instances of child abuse or neglect. Mandatory reporters include:

  • teachers and school personnel,
  • doctors, nurses and EMT's,
  • police and firefighters,
  • social workers.

Please note that a mandated reporter who fails to report child abuse could be charged with a crime.

There are legal defenses and strategies if a person is accused of child abuse in California. These defenses include:

  • the allegations are false,
  • the child's injuries were caused by something other than abuse,
  • the accused was acting within his or her legal right to discipline the child,
  • the injury was the result of an accident.

Is it illegal in California for a parent to spank a child with an object?

A parent is permitted to spank a child with an object if it is justifiable. Justifiable means that:

  • a reasonable person would find that punishment was necessary under the circumstances,
  • the method of spanking was reasonable.

Please note that in many country's it is now illegal to spank a child. Sweden, for example, banned the physical punishment of children in 1979.

What could a person be charged with for spanking a child excessively?

If spanking is excessive, or not for disciplinary purposes, child abuse charges could be filed against a parent or guardian.

To convict an accused person of child abuse in California a prosecutor would have to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  • the accused willfully inflicted cruel or inhuman physical punishment, or injury, on a minor;
  • the punishment or injury inflicted caused a traumatic physical condition; and
  • when the accused acted, he or she was not reasonably disciplining the minor.

Please note that there are additional crimes which could be charged if there is a corporal injury to a child. These include:

  • child endangerment under Penal Code 273a,
  • child neglect under Penal Code 280,
  • battery under Penal Code 242.

What is the punishment for a person convicted of child abuse for excessive spanking?

It depends on the facts of the case and the accused's criminal history. Child abuse charges under PC273d can be filed as either a felony or a misdemeanor.

If charged as a misdemeanor, child abuse is punishable by:

  • one-year in county jail,
  • up to a $6,000 fine.

If charged as a felony child abuse is punishable by:

  • two, four, or six years in jail,
  • a $6,000 fine.

Probation is possible in a child abuse case. If placed on probation for child abuse, punishment must include:

  • a minimum of three years probation (up to six years in felony cases),
  • a protective order protecting the child from further violence or threats,
  • completion of a minimum one-year child abuser's treatment counseling program.

Are there defenses to a charge of child abuse for spanking a child in California?

Yes, there are defenses that can be raised if a person is charged with child abuse for excessive spanking. These defenses include:

  • the allegations are false,
  • the child's injuries were caused by something other than abuse,
  • the accused was acting within his or her legal right to discipline the child,
  • the injury was the result of an accident.

Can a person's name be listed on the child abuse central index for spanking a child excessively?

Yes, a person's name could be listed on the child abuse central index (CACI) even if criminal charges are never filed against them, so long as:

  • Allegations of child abuse or neglect are substantiated.

A substantiated report means one that is determined by the investigator who conducted the investigation to constitute child abuse or neglect.

If a person wants to have their name removed from the CACI they must timely request a grievance hearing.

About the Author

Neil Shouse

A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.

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