Here's what I witnessed some time ago:

There is a large ground level chess set set at an outdoor mall, with squares about 2x2 feet and pieces 2-3 feet high, about 5 lbs each. This chess set is usually used by small kids, 2-5 year old, who move the large chess pieces, make around themselves, pretend to ride the horses, etc.

One day a much bigger kid, 10 year old or so, apparently elated by the lack of supervision, ran into that chess playground, and started throwing the 5 lbs chess pieces with force across the chess set in random directions, sometimes missing the toddlers by inches. The thrown pieces would sometime bump the other pieces around the toddlers, sometime miss a toddler's head or leg by inches, etc. This lasted for at least 5 min.

And in those 5 min of quite dangerous bombardment not a single adult would attempt to restrain the minor. Some parents would take their toddlers out of the chess board games despite their protests; some would get closer to their kids within the chess board while watching the 10-yo, apparently with intent to intercept a chess piece if it would fly at their kid; some adults would just watch what's happening from the benches. And nobody would interfere with the apparently dangerous youth, not physically, and not even verbally.

I gathered from the conversations nearby that the adults were just afraid to restrain the youth for the fear of being accused later that they were doing something illegal against the minor. The parents were more afraid to be branded abusers of that child than of the physical harm said child would do to their own kids.

Thus the question: how realistic where their fears in the state of California? If an adult physically restrains a child and claims that the child was a danger to others can the adult have legal problems?

  • 3
    This kind of thing infuriates me. User6726 indeed has given a very accurate, though disappointing answer. My question would be what other options are there. If a toddler was injured who is accountable? If the child is too young to be legally responsible then surely his guardians should be held accountable for his actions and be charged with causing distress and alarm (or similar local law)
    – Darren H
    Nov 9, 2016 at 18:06
  • @DarrenH One option: stand in front of the 10 yo and block the throws plus ask him to throw away from the other kids. I go farther than I should in California. If I see a kid staring longingly at me pushing my kids on the swings, I'll ask if they want to swing too and get them going. But, truthfully, you should never touch a stranger's child. I've also pried a girl's hands off my son at an indoor playground. She was being "friendly". No parent complained--I'm not sure there was one in sight.
    – mkennedy
    Nov 9, 2016 at 18:36
  • @DarrenH: regarding accountability of the minor or his guardian: can I videotape the event and submit it to local police? California is a 2-party consent for audio recording, and smartphone video includes audio; also I think California requires parental consent for taking pics of a minor, I believe. On the other hand, there ought to be an option to record a crime in progress, I think. Thus the follow-up question: when witnessing an event like that can I legally record the event for the purpose of submitting a criminal complaint against the minor or his parents?
    – Michael
    Nov 9, 2016 at 19:32

1 Answer 1


If an adult had physically restrained the miscreant brat, they could be sued for / charged with battery (which does not mean "beating up", per Cal Penal 242, it is the "willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon the person of another". In either case, there is a defense that can be mounted, the "defense of others" defense, to the effect that the person had a reasonable belief that it was necessary to prevent physical harm to others. Which means, the jury would imagine themselves in that situation and guess how likely it is that someone might get hurt. Lofting 5 lb chess pieces at a 2 year old could poke out an eye, especially since they haven't learned to duck at that age – however, I question (as would an opposing attorney) the characterization "quite dangerous". At any rate, it would depend on the level of danger posed. There is also a "proportionality" requirement for the defense of others defense: "The defendant used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend against that danger" (CalCrim instruction 3470). The battery might not have been necessary, since simply getting between the criminal and his victims could have been sufficient.

As to whether there would actually be a lawsuit, that depends in part on the mind-set of the parents. Assuming that the level of force did not rise above simple bodily contact, it is unlikely that a jury would vote to convict / find liable, but certainly not impossible. If under those circumstances the results would not be in serious doubt, then it is unlikely that the person would be prosecuted (the prosecutor wouldn't bother with such a case). We may also assume that a decent attorney would persuade the offended parent-client that it is not a good use of their money to pursue he matter. Still, the risk is not negligible, since you don't know whether you'll have bad luck with the jury, or whether the child suffers from eggshell skull syndrome and then you would be is serious trouble. I don't think the fears are unrealistic, though they may be improbable, and they could be definitive for people who live in fear.

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    Wow. Does the possibility of criminal prosecution apply to defense of others from miscreant youth or defense of others from anybody? If interfering to prevent likely physical harm is deemed "battery" does that automatically classify any citizen arrest as "battery"?
    – Michael
    Nov 9, 2016 at 5:27
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    Defense of others is available no matter who the assailant is. A citizen's arrest cannot be battery because a citizen's arrest is lawful, and battery is the unlawful use of force. A false citizen's arrest, however, is unlawful. In other words, if a citizen nabs a person, but does so wrongly, they they are in hot water for false arrest and battery. There is a complication about having a reasonable belief, but basically, you need to be right about having a basis for arresting a person.
    – user6726
    Nov 9, 2016 at 5:50

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