Many of you have probably heard about the father who took his two-year-old daughter into the elephant enclosure at the San Diego Zoo for a photo opp. From the video that’s been posted online, you can see the elephant start to approach the two and, when the father is attempting to get out, seems to drop the child and scoop her up just moments before the elephant gets to them.
Turns out that wasn’t the smartest move, for many reasons. Setting aside the potential for small child/elephant mishaps, the man was promptly arrested for child endangerment and booked on $100,000 bond at the San Diego County jail. Wonder if he got his picture?
Now, you might ask yourself, seems like a “relatively” minor crime, no? No one got hurt, there was no ill-intent, no property was damaged or destroyed, shouldn’t this just be a simple issue to resolve? As many things in the law are, it turns out the answer to that question is “it’s not so simple.”
California punishes “child abuse” and “child endangerment” and “child neglect.” For purposes of our zoogoer, we’ll be talking about “child endangerment” which is codified in Penal Code 273(a). Paraphrased for all you non-lawyers out there, that code makes it illegal for someone to willfully exposing a child to unjustifiable pain, suffering or danger, or by subjecting that child to an unreasonable risk of harm, even if the child never actually suffers any harm. If the conditions are likely to produce great bodily injury or death, that charge is a felony, punishable by up to 2-4-6 years in state prison. If the conditions are such that there is not likely to be great bodily injury or death, that is a misdemeanor, punishable by no more than 1 year in county jail.
Some examples of how this crime is charged in California include getting arrested for DUI with your child in the car, leaving a child inside a hot car without ventilation, leaving a dangerous weapon where a child can easily access it, failing to get medical treatment for a sick child, and the list goes on. Chances are, if you have to think about whether the conduct would be considered illegal, it likely will be construed that way.
There are also some additional penalties unique to a conviction for child endangerment that the court has under its discretion. If probation is granted by the court, the mandatory minimum time of probation (usually 36 months) is increased to 48 months. There will be a criminal court protective order against the person conviction to protect the victim against any further violence or threats. The person convicted will have to take, and complete, a 52-week child abuser treatment counseling program and, if any substances or alcohol was used in connection with the incident, the court can order the person convicted to abstain from drugs and/or alcohol and be subject to random testing by the probation department. These additional penalties are all within the court’s discretion in such that an effective Los Angeles criminal defense attorney can argue and present facts which can prevent these obligations in furtherance of justice.
You might also be thinking, “wait, I never meant for this to happen, why am I being charged with this”? Well, maybe you shouldn’t be. Defenses to this conduct include non-intentional “endangerment” conduct, the person was legally disciplining their child, the whole act was a false accusation, someone other than the person being charged was responsible for the child at the time.
This brings us back to our zoogoer. I would say that most of the general public, and for sure the district attorney’s office who is responsible for enforcing laws and public safety, would argue that taking your child into the elephant enclosure constitutes a situation that could willfully expose that child to unjustifiable pain, suffering or danger, whether or not the child actually suffers.
If you find yourself on the wrong end of an arrest or call from a police officer or detective, it is important to be aware of what you say to them and, hopefully, you don’t say anything until you’ve spoken to your attorney. Contact Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Ross Erlich today to discuss your case, for free, and see what options you have so you don’t end up in the cage.