On Friday, November 2, a 64-year-old teacher was arrested under suspicion of child abuse after he is alleged to have punched a student multiple times. According to a cell phone video caught by another student in the class, the situation started when a 14-year-old student confronted the teacher for allegedly having spoken ill about the boy. Initially, the teacher took a passive stance, so the student’s provocation increases to cursing and calling him by a racial epithet. Eventually, the teacher snapped and began hitting the boy repeatedly, using the hand that was holding his cell phone to do so.
Eventually, the fight was broken up, and after a call to the LASD, the on-campus police related what had occurred. After that, the teacher was arrested on suspicion of child abuse charges and held in lieu of $50,000 bond. He was released from jail the following day and is scheduled to be arraigned on November 30.
Child abuse is covered under California Penal Code 273d and is described as the willful infliction of either:
Cruel or inhuman corporal punishment, or
An injury that results in a traumatic condition on a minor who is under 18
Under California law, the term “corporal punishment” refers to the punishing of the body, as opposed to the emotions. A “traumatic condition” is any wound, minor or serious, caused by the direct application of physical force. “Willfully” indicates that the person who inflicted the punishment or injury intended to do so at the time. For example, punching a child in the face in an attempt to injure them would be considered willful. Accidentally elbowing a child in the face that you didn’t know was there would more than likely not.
PC 273d applies to many types of abuse or applications of force other than punching, including slapping, kicking, choking, pushing, shaking, and more. However, spanking is not covered under PC 273d provided that it is done for disciplinary purposes and isn’t excessive under the circumstances. It should be noted that the description of when spanking is not considered child abuse is deliberately vague. There are strong opinions both for and against spanking as a punishment, and while it is legally allowed today, things may change tomorrow.
Like many of California’s laws, Penal Code 273d is a “wobbler” that can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the circumstances of the case and the defendant’s prior criminal history. If charged as a misdemeanor, the possible penalties include summary probation or up to one year in county jail and/or a fine of up to $6,000.
For felony charges, the penalties include a jail sentence of two, four, or six years and/or a fine of up to $6,000. It is also possible that the defendant is sentenced to formal (felony) probation for part (or all) of their sentence instead of jail.