Child abuse charges are usually thought to involve sexual molestation. However, this is just one of many ways someone can be charged with child abuse. Of course, someone who is alleged to have sexually abused a child will be charged with a violation of Penal Code section 288(a) or other Penal Code sections that involve sex crimes. Force does not have to be involved in child sexual abuse. If a person is under 18 they are considered a child and the charge of child abuse can apply.
Recently, a child abuse charge was alleged against a couple who allowed their child to smoke marijuana. The child was only a toddler and the couple took a video of the incident. This kind of case is one where the abuse is obvious. If a 23 month old baby is smoking pot the charge of child abuse is self-evident. It seems that it would go without even saying it but a baby should never be allowed to smoke let alone smoke a controlled substance no matter whether we think marijuana should be legalized or not.
However, what about driving under the influence of alcohol and having your child in the car seat? Someone who drives their car while under the influence can and will be charged with child endangerment (Penal Code section 273a). The prosecutor will accuse you of endangering the health of the child by driving your car while under the influence and even though the child is strapped into the car seat, the theory is that the child is in danger because you, the driver, aren’t as able to care for his or her safety as if you were driving sober. It increases punishment for driving under the influence and labels you as a child abuser even though you didn’t have any intent to strike, molest, or otherwise hurt your child.