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Name: In re L.K.
Case #: F060662
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 5 DCA
Opinion Date: 10/18/2011

The mens rea for the indirect infliction of harm in Penal Code section 273a, subdivision (a) (child endangerment) is criminal negligence. According to evidence presented at a contested hearing, the 15-year-old minor, L.K., drove her mother’s truck and ran over the 17-month-old victim and, as a result, he suffered great bodily harm. Following the incident, minor did not inform adults of the incident and medical treatment of the baby was not sought for several hours. The appellate court found that the trial court erred in finding that minor directly inflicted harm, and then applied an incorrect legal standard of criminal negligence to the finding, in ruling that minor committed a violation of section 273a, subd. (a). Section 273a, has four prongs, only one of which falls into the category of “direct infliction” of harm. That category has a legal standard of intentional and willful infliction of harm. The other three prongs are in the category of “indirect infliction,” for which the mens rea is criminal negligence. Although the juvenile court incorrectly found that the act was direct infliction and then applied the wrong standard, substantial evidence nevertheless supported a finding of indirect infliction of harm, i.e., any person who willfully causes or permits a child to suffer, for which the applicable mens rea of criminal negligence exists. A strong inference could be drawn from the evidence that minor knew that the truck she drove had struck and rolled over an object. Despite her knowledge, she failed to report the incident and medical help was not secured for the baby, causing him to suffer unnecessarily. This was conduct that was a departure from that of an ordinarily prudent or careful person under the same circumstances, or criminal negligence.