There is a certain amount of discipline that is lawful under California law.  A parent does have the legal right to discipline their child, but that discipline must be reasonable punishment.  Generally, spanking a child on the butt would be considered reasonable form of corporal punishment, however, punching a child in the face would be excessive, and unreasonable, therefore punishable under California Penal Code 273d.  Penal Code 273d pc is a wobbler, which means that depending on the severity of the facts and your criminal history, it may be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.

The following two elements are required for a conviction of California Penal Code pc 273d: that you willfully  inflicted cruel or inhuman physical punishment or an injury on a child, and that the infliction of the punishment or injury resulted in a traumatic condition.  Willful means with a willingness to commit an act.  If you push your child without the intention of causing him to fall, but he accidentally did fall to the ground and was injured as a result, it does not matter that you did not intend to cause that specific injury.  Cruel and unusual punishment on a child is commonly described as that which shocks the moral conscience of the community.  Traumatic condition is defined as an injury whether it is  an internal or external injury to the child caused by physical force.   A jury would be asked to determine all of the circumstances in evaluating whether the amount of force was reasonable or excessive.

Parent’s Right to Discipline Child  Defense to child abuse under California Penal Code 273d. “It is lawful for a parent reasonably to discipline a child, and in doing so to administer reasonable punishment, including the infliction of reasonable corporal punishment. However, it is unlawful for a parent to inflict unjustifiable punishment upon a child. Corporal punishment is not justified and is therefore unlawful if the punishment was not reasonably necessary, or was excessive, under the circumstances. The defendant contends that he was lawfully disciplining the child. The People have the burden of proving that the force applied to the child was unlawful, that is, not reasonably necessary or excessive, under the circumstances. If you have a reasonable doubt that unlawful force was applied, you must find the defendant not guilty. If you find that the use of force was not reasonably necessary or was excessive, you must determine what crime, if any, was committed in light of the other instructions.”

CALJIC 2.50.04 Evidence of other child abuse offenses  “Evidence has been introduced for the purpose of showing that the defendant committed an offense of child abuse, namely a violation of [California] Penal Code section 273d, on [an] [one or more] occasion[s] other than that charged in this case. If you find that the defendant committed a prior violation of [California] Penal Code section 273d, you may, but are not required to, infer that the defendant had a disposition to commit [another] offense[s] involving child abuse. If you find that the defendant had this disposition, you may, but are not required to, infer that [he] [she] was likely to commit and did commit the crime [or crimes] of which [he] [she] is accused.

However, if you find by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant committed [a] prior [an] offense[s] of child abuse, this finding is not sufficient by itself to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that [he] [she] committed the charged crime[s]. If you determine an inference properly can be drawn from this evidence, this inference is one item for you to consider, along with all other evidence, in determining whether the defendant has been proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the charged crime. Unless you are otherwise instructed, you [You] must not consider this evidence for any other purpose.

CALJIC 9.36 Child abuse. “Every person who willfully inflicts upon any child any cruel or inhuman corporal punishment or an injury resulting in a traumatic condition is guilty of a violation of [California] Penal Code section 273d, a crime. In order to prove this crime, each of the following elements must be proved: (1) A person willfully inflicted cruel or inhuman punishment or an injury upon the body of a child; and (2) The infliction of this punishment or this injury resulted in a traumatic condition.”

California Penal Code 273d child abuse. “(c) If a person is convicted of violating this section and probation is granted, the court shall require the following minimum conditions of probation: (1) A mandatory minimum period of probation of 36 months. (2) A criminal court protective order protecting the victim from further acts of violence or threats, and, if appropriate, residence exclusion or stay-away conditions. (3)(A) Successful completion of no less than one year of a child abuser’s treatment counseling program. The defendant shall be ordered to begin participation in the program immediately upon the grant of probation. The counseling program shall meet the criteria specified in [California] Section 273.1. The defendant shall produce documentation of program enrollment to the court within 30 days of enrollment, along with quarterly progress reports. [Failure to comply may result in the court issuing a bench warrant for your arrest.] (B) The terms of probation for offenders shall not be lifted until all reasonable fees due to the counseling program have been paid in full, but in no case shall probation be extended beyond the term provided in subdivision (a) of Section 1203.1. If the court finds that the defendant does not have the ability to pay the fees based on the defendant’s changed circumstances, the court may reduce or waive the fees. (4) If the offense was committed while the defendant was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the defendant shall abstain from the use of drugs or alcohol during the period of probation and shall be subject to random drug testing by his or her probation officer. (5) The court may waive any of the above minimum conditions of probation upon a finding that the condition would not be in the best interests of justice. The court shall state on the record its reasons for any waiver.”