CHILD NEGLECT UNDER PENAL CODE SECTION 270

THE LAW

Under penal Code section 270 PC, failure to provide adequate and necessary care for your child is a crime, often prosecuted as a misdemeanor.   A violation of Penal Code section 270 PC can be committed even by a parent who has rare or limited contact with his or her child.

To prove you guilty of child neglect under Penal Code section 270 PC, the prosecutor must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, the following elements of the offense:

  1. You were the child’s parent;
  2. The child was under the age of 18;
  3. You failed to provide adequate and necessary material care for the child;
  4. Your failure to provide adequate and necessary care to the child was intentional, willful, and unjustifiable.

Let’s take a closer look at the elements:

You were the child’s parent

Under Penal Code section 270 PC, you are a “parent” of a child if you biologically gave birth to the child and/or assumed the care of the child—i.e., adopted the child.  You need not be married to the child’s parent or have any legal parental rights over the child to be considered his or her parent under Penal Code section 270 PC.

For example, Jill and John are girlfriend and boyfriend.  Jill gets pregnant with John’s baby and has the baby.  John abandons Jill and the baby as soon as the baby is born.  Two years later, John’s neighbor informs him that Jill has become a prostitute and brings over men to the same house where the baby resides.  John fails to do anything about this.  He figures that he has no responsibility over the child.  John is wrong.  Under Penal Code section 270 PC, he may found guilty of child neglect, even though he abandoned the child and never actually assumed his care.

Now imagine that, unbeknownst to John, Jill sleeps with other men and gets pregnant.  When the child is born, Jill abuses the child, a fact known to John, and John does nothing to protect the child. In fact, John leaves both the child and Jill as soon as the child is born.  In this scenario, without evidence to the contrary, a jury may assume, for purposes of Penal Code Section 270 PC, that John is the father of the child.   

You failed to provide necessary and material care—i.e., necessities—for the child

Necessary or material care—i.e., “necessities”—includes clothing, food, shelter, medical care, and other forms of care.   The law per Penal Code section 270 PC does not require that a parent must provide only conventional forms of care to the child.  If a parent’s religious beliefs prevent him or her from using traditional medicine, then he or she is allowed to provide remedial care that is faith-based so long as this form of care is adequate and does not in any way jeopardize the life or health of the child.  That means that parents who use faith-based treatment can be prosecuted for Penal Code section 270 PC if this form of treatment is inadequate and jeopardizes the child’s health.

Your failure to provide adequate and necessary care to the child was intentional, willful, and unjustifiable

To prove you guilty of a violation of Penal Code section 270 PC, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt not only that your failure to provide adequate care was willful but that it was unjustifiable—i.e., without a lawful excuse.  You cannot be convicted of Penal Code section 270 PC if your failure to provide adequate care was through no fault of your own or arising out of circumstances beyond your control.

For example, Maria, a single mother of four, gets evicted from her apartment for failure to pay rent.  Maria gets a minimum wage job at McDonalds and sets up a tent in a remote area of town to provide shelter to her children. Maria’s income is not enough to feed the children and adequately tend to their physical needs. One day, Maria’s oldest son tells a stranger on the street that he is starving.  The stranger soon realizes that the child is living in a tent under unsafe conditions.  He notifies the police.  In this scenario, Maria is not guilty of Penal Code section 270 PC because her failure to provide her children with adequate shelter and food was because, through no fault of her own, she could not earn enough money to support all four of her children.

Now imagine that Maria gets evicted from her apartment but refuses to work anywhere.  She simply allows her children to go hungry and relies solely on the mercy of strangers.  In this scenario, Maria has no lawful excuse because she failed to diligently look for work.  She might therefore be prosecuted for child neglect under Penal Code section 270.

Next imagine that Maria has $5.000.00 in savings when she is evicted from her apartment.  Instead of using this money to buy food and clothes for her children, she goes on a shopping spree and squanders the money on expensive clothes for herself.  The children are left hungry for days.  In this scenario, too, Maria is guilty of Penal Code section 270 PC because she did not spend the money on necessities for her children.

Note that you may be charged with child neglect even if somebody else provided your child with the care that you did not provide.  Example: Maria’s four-year-old daughter often goes to school hungry and without proper attire because Maria, who works day and night shifts as a stripper, does not take the time to feed and dress the child.  The child’s teacher notices the child’s needs, and brings her clean clothes and lunch everyday.  Maria can be prosecuted for Penal Code section 270 PC, even though the teacher provides the child with the necessities that Maria did not provide. 

PENALTIES FOR CHILD NEGLECT UNDER PENAL CODE SECTION 270 PC

In most cases, a violation of Penal Code section 270 PC is prosecuted as a misdemeanor.   If you are convicted of a misdemeanor violation of 270 PC, you face the following penalties:

  1. Summary, or informal, probation.
  2. A maximum county jail sentence of one year
  3. A maximum fine of $2,000.00

Harsher penalties might apply if you have been previously adjudicated to be the parent of the child.  In that situation, a violation of Penal Code section 270 PC becomes a wobbler, which means that it could be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the particular circumstances of the offense and your criminal history.  However, if you have never been convicted of child neglect, it is very unlikely that the prosecutor will charge you with a felony violation of Penal Code section 270 PC.

For example, Jesse has a child with Justina.  In previous child custody proceedings, Jesse was determined to be the parent the father of the child.  Both Jesse and Justina fail to provide adequate and necessary care for the child.  Jesse suffered prior convictions for driving under the influence and domestic battery against Justina.  However, he had never before been convicted of child abuse.   The prosecutor charges Jesse with a misdemeanor violation of Penal Code section 270 PC.

Now assume that Jesse has previously suffered a conviction for child abuse.  The offense is more than 6 years old.  In this scenario, Jesse can be charged with a felony violation of Penal Code section 270 because of his prior conviction.

What if in a previous adjudication Jesse had not been determined to be the child’s father? In this scenario, Jesse will likely only be charged with a misdemeanor violation of Penal Code section 270.  As discussed above, the law attributes harsher penalties to an individual who has been legally determined to be the parent of the child.

LEGAL DEFENSES TO CHILD NEGLECT UNDER PENAL CODE SECTION 270

If you are charged with child neglect under Penal Code section 270, you may be entitled certain fact-based defenses.  These defenses include the following:

  • You did not act intentionally or willfully

To prove you guilty of child neglect under Penal Code section 270, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that your failure to provide care to the child was willful and intentional.  If you were not aware that your child was not being provided with necessary care, you are not guilty of child neglect under Penal Code section 270.

For example, Jesse is a single father of a three-year-old.  Jesse travels significantly for work.  For this reason, he hires a nanny to take care of his three-year-old daughter.  One summer, Jesse travels to Europe for work, and leaves the child with the nanny.  Unbeknownst to Jesse, the Nanny fails to feed and properly dress the child.  Every time Jesse calls the nanny to inquire about his daughter’s well-being, the nanny falsely responds that the child is doing well.  The authorities get notified of the nanny’s failure to provide care for the child.  In this scenario, Jesse is not guilty of child neglect under Penal Code section 270 because he was not aware that his daughter was not receiving proper care, and was in fact deceived to believe otherwise.

  • You had a justifiable, lawful excuse for your failure provide necessary care for your child

If you could not provide necessary care for you child because of circumstances out of your control and not of your own doing, then you cannot be found guilty of child neglect under Penal Code section 270 PC.   One such circumstance can be financial difficulty or poverty.  If you cannot feed your children because you are destitute and homeless, for example, then you have a justifiable, lawful excuse for failure to provide necessary care for your children.

RELATED OFFENSES

Contributing to the delinquency of a child under Penal Code section 272(a)

Under Penal Code section 272(a), it is a crime to act, or fail to act, in a manner that results in the delinquency of a child.  Examples of a violation of Penal Code section 272(a) include the following:

  • You allow your 17-year-old son to use your bedroom to have sex with his 16-year-old girlfriend.
  • You supply alcohol to your 16 year old son
  • You encourage your 10 year old son to skip school

A violation of Penal Code section 272(a) is prosecuted as a misdemeanor in California.  If you are convicted of this misdemeanor offense, you face up to one year in county jail, and a maximum find of five thousand dollars.

Child Endangerment under Penal Code section 273(a)

Under Penal Code section 273(a), the offense of child endangerment occurs when a parent or guardian willfully allows a child to suffer unjustifiable physical or mental pain, or willfully causes or allows a child to be injured or be placed in a dangerous situation.  To prove you guilty of a violation of Penal Code section 273(a), the prosecutor need not prove that the child suffered actual injury.

Examples of conduct that can constitute child endangerment include:

  • Leaving loaded guns within reach of your child;
  • Leaving your child with a caretaker whom you have reason to believe is negligent or abuse;
  • Leaving your child in a home full of drugs and syringes;
  • Intentionally avoiding medical care for your very ill child.

Child endangerment under Penal Code section 273(a) becomes a wobbler if the conduct posed a risk of great bodily or death to the child.  This means that the offense can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony depending the particulars of the case and your criminal history.

HOW THE LOS ANGELES CRIMINAL ATTORNEYS CAN HELP YOU

As with every case, Negin does not take the police and prosecution’s account at face value. Negin will conduct her own independent fact-finding, and meticulously and thoroughly examine the particular facts of your case to devise a defense and defense strategy that she will then use to earn a dismissal or reduction of the charges against you.  Call for a free consultation on the details of your case with our criminal defense lawyer, again do not hesitate to call us 24/7 at 424-333-0943.

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