California statutes provide a broad leeway on how parents should raise their children. But when the parent fails to provide the basic needs for the minor, he or she risks facing child neglect charges. Crimes against minors face a lot of harsh treatment, which is why we at Orange County Criminal Lawyer are here to offer guidance when facing allegations of not providing care to your child.
Overview of Child Neglect
PC 270 seeks to protect the welfare and safety of a child. Under the statute, it is unlawful for a parent to fail to provide or willfully withhold food, shelter, water, supervision, medical care, and other necessities without any lawful justification. During the review of the parent’s behavior not to provide care, the court considers the income and financial assets of the parent to determine if the parent deliberately withheld care or support for the minor.
The same statute seeks to protect the minor’s right to be supported by both parents. If a law enforcement agency orders that you accept a child into your home and you fail to do so, you risk facing misdemeanor charges.
California also prohibits parents from exposing a child to the risk of physical harm, mental suffering, or death by putting the child in an unsafe situation. In such incidences, if the prosecution can demonstrate that the child was in danger, then you might be facing a criminal charge.
Visible Signs of Child Neglect
There are sure signs you can observe in a child and conclude that their parents don’t care for them. Some of these signs are:
If you find a child who is small in body weight and most of the time, claims to be hungry or shows signs of hoarding food, then the minor might be physically neglected. Other symptoms of physical neglect are:
- Poorly fitting clothes
- Dirty clothes
- Clothes that are not fit for the weather
- Clothes that don’t cover the body
- Unwashed hair
- Body odor
- Diseases or physical injuries that appear to have been neglected
Mental or Emotional Neglect
You can tell a child lacks mental and emotional support if he or she frequently portrays strong emotions, anger, and frustrations.
You will know a child requires enough supervision if they are often absent from school or changing schools. Also, when a child plays in hazardous areas or most of the time, he or she is alone, then the child lacks supervision.
Note that although these signs can help you in telling whether a child is adequately cared for, there are no specific characteristics of child neglect.
Prosecuting Child Neglect Charges
Evidence is critical when it comes to the prosecution of any case. But the primary way you can end up in conviction is if you plead guilty to the charges of child neglect. Here, you will confess to not providing for the child. The other way you will end up with a conviction is if you take a plea deal. Usually, defendants accept a plea bargain where they have committed a more serious offense than a violation of PC 270 to avoid trial or severe consequences upon conviction. The final way you will get a sentence is if the case goes to trial. During a court proceeding, the prosecution must prove particular elements of PC 270 to prove your guilt to the court. Each item of the crime must be shown beyond moral certainty before the jurors, or the judge gives a final verdict. The elements or facts of the crime include:
- You are a Parent to the Minor
The person who constitutes or makes up a parent under PC 270 is:
- Somebody who is married and lives with the mother of the victim who, in this case, is the child
- A husband who is not sterile and lives with the wife with whom they have sired babies
- A husband whose wife gives birth to a child through artificial insemination after he has agreed to the artificial insemination through writing
- A husband whose wife engages in sexual intercourse with other persons is still a parent to the baby. However, if you or the mother of the child files a paternity lawsuit within twenty-four months after the birth of the child and the verdict of the court is that you are not the father, then you will not be a parent to the child.
Even if you and your partner have divorced and you don’t have custody over the child, you are still parents. You might think that because you have never met the child since he or she was born, you are not the parent. The truth is that you will still be considered as a parent to the victim unless he or she was safely surrendered.
Remember that even if the child was adopted, the prosecution could still convict you if they prove that before the judge handed over the child to another legal guardian, the child was deemed abandoned. Also, a one-night stand that leads to the birth of a child automatically makes you the father of the victim even if you are not married.
Aside from biological parents, the law considers you a parent to a child if you adopted him or her through legal means. If you took responsibility for a minor because he or she was abandoned, you automatically become the parent of the child, and you have a legal obligation to provide for the physical needs of the child.
Remember that PC 270 doesn’t apply only to born babies. Even as a parent of an unborn baby, you have to provide for the needs of the baby. Otherwise, you will be subject to PC 270 charges.
- You Failed to Provide Your Kid with Physical Needs
Physical necessities as per PC 270 include food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. Note that medical care can be replaced with remedial care, which is the healthcare treatment provided through religious means like prayers. If you, as a parent, opt for a spiritual healer instead of medical treatment, then you will not face allegations of failing to provide medical care for your child. Remember that this statute recognizes not all religious healers. It must be someone from a recognized religious association. Although you might not be guilty under PC 270 for taking a child to a spiritual healer, you might be liable under PC 273a, which focuses on child endangerment.
- Failure to Provide Care was Purposeful or with no Lawful Excuse
Purposefully failing to provide for the physical necessities of a child is considered negligence. For the prosecution to convict you under this element, they must demonstrate your conduct had some level of intent. But where failure to provide care for the child was accidental, then you are innocent.
PC 270 also requires parents to do what they possibly can to provide for the basic needs of their child. If you are a parent who has an income and instead of spending your money on the minor, you spend it on other things, you, therefore, lack the legal justification not to provide for the victim. The prosecution can easily convict you if they can prove that you can care for a child but choose not to.
You are also likely to face sentencing if you have a lawful excuse for not providing care for your child. If you didn’t have the income or financial resources to provide for the kid or you are not in a position to earn money for the physical needs of your child, then you have a lawful excuse.
Keep in mind that each of the above facts must have evidence. If the prosecution has strong evidence for each element, then you might not escape a conviction.
Penalties for a Conviction Under PC 270
If you are accused of child neglect, you will be subject to administrative and criminal penalties. The offense is a wobbler, meaning you can face either a misdemeanor or felony charge depending on the decision by the prosecutor. The particular facts surrounding your arrest and criminal history will play a pivotal role in determining the charge. In case they file the offense as a misdemeanor, and you get convicted, the punishment is incarceration in jail for up to 12 months or court fines not exceeding twenty thousand dollars. If your charge is a felony and you get a conviction, the punishment is:
- No more than twelve months in jail
- A maximum of twelve-months and one day in a California prison
- Court fines of no more than $2,000
You will be subject to felony charges if a judge has ruled in a paternity suit that you fathered the minor, but you still fail to provide for the physical necessities of a minor.
Very few parents in California face felony charges after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to charge a parent with a felony, especially if he or she is a first-time offender. The reason for the verdict was that the court didn’t want to discourage men from seeking paternity for their kids. The decision also meant to protect men from a situation where they have to pay child support when they are unsure if they are the biological father of the minor. Also, it intended to protect men from facing felony charges if it is realized they are the biological father of the child in the future.
Understand that although it isn’t easy to face felony child neglect charges, if you as a father lost a paternity suit and were found guilty in the past, felony charges are mandatory.
Defenses for Child Neglect Charges
As you have seen above, the punishments for PC 270 conviction are severe. Luckily there are possible defenses that you can apply to contest the charges. However, for a proper defense, you will need an experienced criminal defense attorney. With an excellent defense law firm, if the elements of the case are not well supported by proof, you can get a plea deal for a lesser charge. But where the prosecution has substantial evidence to support facts of the case, you will need an attorney who can invent defense theories that will use procedural legal tools. If that doesn’t seem to work, you will need an investigator who will dedicate time and resources to finding evidence that will work in your favor.
Remember that cases involving children can be emotional, and the jury might deny you the benefit of the doubt. In such cases, you will also require an attorney with experience in persuading jurors and judges even when all odds are against you. Some of the defenses you can apply when facing these charges are:
You didn’t Act Willfully
You can argue that you failed to provide care for the child, but you didn’t do it on purpose. You can blame it on job loss or lack of income or assets that can generate money to care for the child.
You had a Lawful Excuse
You can argue that although, as a parent, you failed to provide for the physical necessities of the child, you had a lawful justification or excuse for not doing so. Your attorney can claim that you were unable to provide after you were involved in a car crash that left you unable to work or engage in income-generating activities.
You are Falsely Accused
There are several reasons why someone can falsely accuse you of neglecting your child. Most cases of false accusations involve ex-spouses or lovers. An ex-partner might want to get revenge or gain an advantage in a divorce or custody proceeding hence falsely accusing you of not providing for your child. Issues to do with jealousy and anger also can trigger cases of false accusations. With a defense attorney, you can have peace of mind because they will investigate the matter and bring truth to light.
Nurses, teachers, or caregivers must report to the authorities when they see cases of domestic violence or child abuse. Failure to report such issues can lead to criminal charges. So, these professionals might assume or suspect child neglect just because they are afraid of not saying. It shows that a lot of people face PC 270 violation charges because of mistaken facts. If you are in a similar situation, your attorney can evaluate the police report and show the court inconsistencies in the statements by the person who reported the issue. That way, the charges can be dropped or dismissed.
Other Offenses Related to Child Neglect
Some crimes are closely related to child neglect. These are:
- Child Abuse
PC 273d is the California statute that prevents people from imposing physical harm or painful punishment on a child. Examples of child abuse include slapping a child leaving severe marks, or disciplining a child using unreasonable force. Just like in child neglect, teachers, nurses, child care workers, and social service providers are required to report cases of child abuse.
This offense differs from child neglect because, under PC 270, no type of physical injury on the child is required to prove guilt. Child abuse is a wobbler, and if you end up with a conviction for a misdemeanor charge, the punishment is up to twelve months in jail or a fine of no more than $6,000.
A felony sentence, on the other hand, will earn you two, three, or six years or maximum court fines of six thousand dollars. You will get additional forty-eight months in jail if you have had a previous conviction for felony child abuse within the last ten years.
Sometimes, instead of a jail sentence, the judge might sentence you to probation. You will be sentenced to a summary or formal probation based on the type of charges the prosecution preferred. Any probation in California where there is the abuse of a child, the terms and conditions of the probation must include the following:
- Mandatory parole for not less than thirty-six months
- A restraining order forbidding you from any contact with the child or further violence or threats against the child
- Completion of the child abuser’s treatment program that lasts for at least twelve months
In the event the offense that led to the conviction was committed when you are intoxicated by drugs or alcohol, the judge might order a drug test as one of the terms of probation.
You can still avoid these penalties even after being formally accused by asserting that the accusations against you are false, the injuries on the minor stemmed from something else other than the abuse. Contesting that the harm was an accident or you had legal rights to punish the child can aid in having the charges dismissed or reduced.
- Child Endangerment
California PC 273a is the law that criminalizes willfully exposing a child to danger, pain, or suffering. You will be punished under this statute for risking to harm a child even though you didn’t succeed in causing the harm.
Whenever you cause or allow a child to endure unjustifiable pain and suffering, willfully cause or let a minor be injured or place a minor in unsafe surroundings, then you are guilty of child endangerment.
The punishment in the event of a conviction is dependent on the risk of death or great bodily injury on the child. Where there is no risk of either, the prosecution will charge you with misdemeanor PC 273a. The consequences of ending up with a conviction for this charge are:
- No more than one-year jail incarceration
- Up to one thousand dollars’ court fines
But in cases where there was a possibility of the child sustaining great bodily injuries or death, child endangerment is considered a wobbler. The penalties for a misdemeanor are similar to the ones mentioned above. However, for a felony conviction, the punishment is:
- Two, four or six years in state imprisonment
- Fines not exceeding $5,000
If the judge decides to impose probation in place of jail time, the conditions of probation will include a protective order, random drug testing where necessary or mandatory counseling.
You should not lose hope when charged with child endangerment. A profound and experienced criminal attorney can prevent the above consequences by using the following defenses:
- You didn’t endanger the child intentionally
- You were legally punishing the child
- You are falsely accused
- You were not responsible for the child
- Another person caused the endangerment but not you
- Failure to Supervise Child’s School Attendance
PC 270.1(a) forbids parents or guardians from not providing reasonable supervision for a child’s school attendance. The definition of a child under this statute is a minor six years or above.
The Action to Take After Being Charged with a Violation of PC 270
It’s essential to begin preparations for your case if you have been charged or are to face accusations of failing to provide for your child. Below are pointers that will help you maneuver the process efficiently and avoid severe punishment.
Remember Every Detail
An allegation of child neglect doesn’t result from one event. The small things about how you interact or relate with the child counts. Therefore, sit down and figure out what could have resulted in the accusation, including the events, where they occurred, and the witnesses.
Track Your Proof
Anything that can ensure you get a ruling in your favor is required. If you have a mental condition that prevents you from providing care for the child, you might need the doctor to testify on that. Get receipts of the things you have bought the child, including food, clothes, and school feels that can prove you didn’t neglect your child.
Also, due to emotional and mental stress that comes with an allegation of child neglect, you will need to speak to a therapist, a loved one, or a counselor to help you cope with the situation.
Find a Child Neglect Attorney Near Me
We at Orange County Criminal Lawyer can help if you are being charged with child neglect or any other domestic violence crime. Contact us today at 714-262-4833 if you are looking for a criminal defense law firm to help you fight the charges.