The Family Protection Unit is responsible for the prosecution of child abuse under Penal Code §273a(a) and §273a(b). The perpetrators are persons who are entrusted with protecting the victim. The victims are some of the most vulnerable members of our community. Many of them cannot speak for themselves or even speak yet. The types of conduct that constitute abuse under these sections include willfully causing or permitting a child to suffer unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering, and endangering the person or health of the child. Mental and physical abuse are against the law. A felony will be charged if the abuse occurs under conditions that are “likely to cause great bodily harm or death.” A misdemeanor will be charged if there is no such likelihood based on the conduct. There is no requirement that there be actual injury inflicted on the child under either of these charging sections.
Penal Code §273d is the most common section used when the abuser does inflict injury on a child. This can be charged either as a felony or a misdemeanor.
Unit prosecutors consider numerous factors while evaluating whether a case should be a felony or misdemeanor. These factors include: the severity of the injury inflicted, how it was inflicted, why it was inflicted, the age and size of the parties, prior abuse, prior criminal history of the abuser, and where the abuser used a weapon.
These cases require special expertise and sensitivity. Veteran prosecutors with extensive felony trial experience are assigned to prosecute the cases from filing to sentencing. A veteran investigator is assigned to assist the prosecution of these crimes. Both the investigator and prosecutor attend specialized training on the subject.
The Family Protection Unit handles the felony child abuse cases. The misdemeanor child abuse cases are handled by the appropriate branch courts. If any child abuse injury results in death, the case is prosecuted by the Homicide Unit.