California Penal Code 270 PC
Child neglect is defined and criminalized in California Penal Code 270 PC. It separates neglect severity into two levels: general and severe.
General neglect refers to negligent treatment, such as failure to provide adequate shelter, food, medical care, or clothing, that does not result in any physical injury to the child. Though there was neglect, it did not cause an adverse effect on the child’s health and welfare.
Severe neglect, however, refers to negligent treatment that endangers the child’s health and welfare. Actions, whether willful or as a result of carelessness, that fail to protect the child from conditions like severe malnutrition or medical ailments fall under this category.
California Penal Code 270 PC also states who can be charged with child neglect. Though the phrasing used in the law is “parent,” it is broadly defined to include anyone legally responsible for the child’s care. This can include:
- Biological parents
- Foster parents of the child
- Adoptive parents of the child
- Anyone holding themselves in a parenting position
It is also important to note that a pregnant mother can be charged with child neglect if they fail to provide primary care for the unborn fetus, as the fetus is considered a minor child under this statute.
Examples of Child Neglect
Child neglect can appear in many different ways, but a few examples include:
- Failure to provide appropriate clothing, such as sending a child to school in a light jacket during winter or a heavy coat during summer
- Not ensuring good hygiene, like a child being dirty, having an unkempt appearance, or wearing unwashed clothes
- Not taking a sick or injured child to see a medical professional when required or ignoring medical advice
- Providing inadequate nutrition, especially if it results in malnutrition
- Refusing to send a child to school regularly without providing alternative education, such as home-schooling
- Failure to meet a child’s emotional needs through actions like ignoring, humiliating, intimidating, or isolating them
Because child neglect can have numerous appearances and some forms are subjective, it is important that the case be documented appropriately in your defense. It is not uncommon for reports to be exaggerated or a situation to be misunderstood by an outside observer. A skilled child neglect defense attorney can help you clearly communicate your situation and potentially discredit the prosecution’s case.
If you have been accused of child neglect, there is a possibility that you will also be charged with other crimes, depending on the circumstances of your case.
- Penal Code 270.1(a) PC – School Attendance
Also known as the California truancy law, Penal Code 270.1(a) PC makes it a misdemeanor if a parent or guardian fails to provide adequate supervision of a child’s school attendance.For this section of the law, the term child refers to a minor who is six years or older and in kindergarten through 8th grade. The child must be chronically truant for these charges to be brought. If convicted, potential penalties can include a jail sentence and fines of up to $2,000.
- Penal Code 273(a) PC – Child Endangerment
This law criminalizes willfully exposing a child to suffering, pain, or danger. Child endangerment charges can be brought even if there was no physical injury to a minor. As long as the child was not put at risk of serious bodily harm or losing their life, child endangerment is charged as a misdemeanor; however, it can be a wobbler offense in severe instances.
- Penal Code 273(d) PC – Child Abuse
Commonly referred to as corporal injury on a minor, Penal Code 273(d) PC makes it a crime to inflict physical harm or cruel punishment on a child. Child abuse charges can only be brought if there is physical harm inflicted on the child.
The law does exclude good faith corporal punishment that uses force reasonably for the situation. Child abuse can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on factors like the severity of the abuse and the accused’s criminal history.
The Burden of the Prosecutor
In order for the prosecution to effectively charge you with child neglect, they must prove certain aspects of the case. These aspects include:
- You are the child’s parent or guardian, under the definition in Penal Code 270 PC
- You refused or failed to provide necessities for the child
- You intentionally refused to provide for the minor child without a legal reason
The definition of parent under California law is broad and highly contested, so it is possible that you do not fit the definition. Acting intentionally requires you to have knowingly failed to meet the child’s needs, and there are many questions about what qualifies as a legitimate excuse. An experienced Moreno Valley child neglect defense attorney will have a thorough knowledge of the nuances of child neglect laws, allowing you the most effective defense for your specific circumstances.
Consequences of a Child Neglect Conviction
Child neglect is classified as a misdemeanor. If convicted, the defendant risks the following criminal penalties:
- Serving one year in county jail
- Paying fines of up to $2,000
Often, misdemeanor child neglect is punished with probation instead of jail time. This means spending very little time in jail and instead meeting the criteria specified in the probation terms. This can include conditions like enrolling in parenting programs, seeking employment, attending counseling sessions, or participating in community service. Failure of the defendant to meet the terms of the probation will likely result in the court revoking the probation and sentencing them to jail.
Another consequence of being accused of child neglect is Child Protective Services involvement. CPS is required to investigate all claims of child neglect, abuse, or exploitation. Though the goal is to keep families intact, children can be removed from their parents or guardians if the situation is determined to be unsafe. Unfortunately, it can be confusing to determine exactly what CPS is authorized to do. A child neglect attorney can help you navigate the CPS investigation.
Potential Defenses to Child Neglect Accusations
Building a comprehensive defense requires a thorough understanding of the law, but there are a few common arguments frequently used in child neglect cases. They include:
- Parental Rights
In the United States, parents have many rights that allow them to raise their children as they deem fit. Though these rights stop where the law begins, there is some flexibility in how the law can be interpreted. An experienced attorney could help you show the action was a different approach that does not constitute child neglect.
- False Accusations
Though child neglect laws are meant to protect minors, they can be used in negative ways if someone files a false accusation. Frequently, false accusations are used in custody proceedings in an attempt to turn the outcome in the accuser’s favor. Other times, the accuser may have perceived the situation incorrectly and misinterpreted what they witnessed.
- Good Faith
It is possible the defendant does not disagree with the prosecution that the child was neglected, but the outcome was in spite of positive intentions and good faith actions. This defense is most likely to be successful if the defense can show any potential remedies put into place once the parent became aware of the neglect.
An experienced child neglect attorney can help you evaluate the evidence and accusations levied against you and then choose the most effective defense for your case.
My SoCal Lawyers: Support Through Child Neglect Accusations
Having child neglect charges brought against you is already terrifying, but it becomes even more so when you consider the involvement of the police, the prosecution, and potentially CPS. My SoCal Lawyers are ready to support you through this difficult process; reach out to our office for a consultation with our knowledgeable team today.