California laws are stringent as far as protecting children is concerned, and understandably so. Children are the most vulnerable members of society and deserve protection, consideration, and care. Neglect is one of the acts against which the law protects children. If it is established that you have neglected a minor, you could face severe penalties.
Many incidents and situations may result in child neglect charges being filed. But in most cases, the allegations are outright false or founded on miscommunication whereby the accused lacked control over the situation. Unluckily, this usually does not keep the prosecution's team from proceeding with the case. To fight the charges and prove your innocence, you need a knowledgeable and aggressive defense lawyer to help you. A knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer will develop a strong defense strategy to help achieve the most favorable outcome, which could include protecting your reputation and criminal record, keeping custody of your child, and not going to jail.
At Chula Vista Criminal Attorney, we understand how important it is for persons accused of child neglect to protect their legal rights, so they do not face wrongful convictions. We know how the local courts, prosecutors, and law enforcement agencies operate, which helps us win cases. When you reach out to us, we will pay attention to your side of the story. And if you let us take your case, we will ensure to do everything possible to assist you, including dedicating our resources, time, and unmatched experience. If you have been charged, do not hesitate to call us to know your legal options and understand your rights.
Overview of the Child Neglect Crime
The California law that describes child neglect crime is PC 270. If accused of neglecting a child or not providing for them, you will face prosecution under 270 PC. The Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (CANRA) is defined under PC 11164 through 11174.3. It comprises definitions of child neglect under PC 11165.2.
Child neglect per PC 11165.2 means negligently treating or maltreating a minor by an individual responsible for their welfare under conditions indicating harm/threatened harm to their welfare or health. The prosecution must prove three critical elements for you to be convicted of PC 270 violation. These are:
- You are a child’s parent
- You did not fulfill your duty of providing for the minor
- Your failure to provide was willfully and without legal excuse
PC 270 defines a child as a person below eighteen years old. Note that this law also safeguards unborn children, meaning parents of an unborn child are obliged to provide the child with necessities.
The definition of a parent under the child neglect law is quite broad. A parent, in this case, could be the child's adoptive parent, legal parent, biological parent, foster care parent, and other members of the family who put themselves across as parents. A grandparent could also fit under this law's ‘parent’ definition.
The court might deem a man as a child's father if his wife gave birth while residing together. For instance, should a woman give birth through artificial insemination (AI), her husband would be deemed the child's father, and that father would be considered a parent.
Someone who stopped enjoying any parental obligations/rights in connection with the child because of a court ruling is not considered a parent under child neglect law, for instance, an ex-caregiver, like a babysitter or an ex-foster parent.
A necessity comprises things a minor requires, like food, clothing, shelter, remedial care (like aid from a formal religion), and dental care/health care/medical care. Child neglect could be an action or omission (failing to do an act) on the responsible person's part, like failing to seek medical attention when the child is ill or has suffered an injury.
Neglect is categorized into two under state law— general and severe. Under general neglect, you will be charged with failing to provide a child who is your responsibility with sufficient basic needs, whereby there is no bodily harm or harm is unlikely. And under severe neglect, you will be charged with failing to protect a child/children you are responsible for from medically diagnosed failure to thrive or severe malnutrition.
Willfully means when you commit an act on purpose or willingly. Willfully failing to perform an act is different from doing something negligently.
Mandatory Reporting Requirement for Suspected Child Neglect
Neglecting a child is categorized as child abuse, and California law dictates mandated reporting. The law requires that mandated reporters report all suspected or known child neglect or abuse cases. California mandated reporters are:
- Teachers aides
- Group home personnel
- Classified employees who are trained to identify and report child abuse cases
- Workers of licensed child day facilities or community care
- Nurses, psychologists, and physicians
- Priests, ministers, rabbis, religious practitioners, and similar functionaries of a religion
You can find the complete mandated reporters list under 11165.7 PC. The legal duty is not met by informing a supervisor. The report should be made by phone and followed up in writing to a County Child Protective Services/County Welfare Department or law enforcement.
Regarding lawful excuse, PC 270 dictates that a parent is required to do everything reasonable to provide minor children with necessities. Parents have a legal excuse for not doing so if, through no fault of their own, they are incapable of earning enough cash and do not have property or income to pay or take care of the minor's needs.
If the parent cannot provide necessities because they have unreasonably opted to spend cash on other stuff or have failed to seek employment diligently, that is not considered a legal excuse.
Consider this example: Stacy, a single mother, earns little wages. She unexpectedly loses her job and does not have any other way to earn income. She fails to feed her son and adequately provide for him after just a few days of going without a job. Here, law enforcement officers do not have the right to arrest Stacy for child neglect. She has a lawful excuse since she lost her job, which was not her fault, and she did not have an alternative source to earn money. Although, she would be criminally liable if she had her job intact but neglected to feed her son and provide other necessities because she spent her earnings on fancy clothing, costly jewelry, or illegal drug use.
Remember that California statute presumes a lack of legal excuse, and you, as the defendant, have the burden to prove otherwise.
Also, note that although neglecting a child differs from emotional abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, maltreatment, and domestic violence, neglect can adversely affect a minor's health and wellbeing and be detrimental to their welfare and mental health. Lack of emotional support and supervision and other kinds of maltreatment perpetrated by family can pose a risk to the minor of developing substance abuse problems, mental illness, or other impairments.
Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) Role In Child Neglect Cases
If you have been charged with violating PC 270, CPS under the DCFS is highly likely to contact you. DCFS is in charge of investigating child abuse and welfare accusations, adoption, and foster care.
Usually, you will want to cooperate with the authorities when your child is involved. You might feel like responding to questions and clearing up misunderstandings or misapprehensions about your minor's care. It is natural to react this way.
Although, if DCFS is already involved, your future and family are at stake. Whereas DCFS claims to support families facing crisis and keep minors safe, they are a criminal-related agency. You want to consult an experienced lawyer who knows how neglect situations are handled. A skilled attorney would know how a DFCS will probe your case and work with the prosecution's team to file formal charges.
Usually, a DCFS/CPS social worker will conceal from you everything they are accusing you of. They might act friendly, pretending to want to help you, but in the real sense, they are searching for specific info. They understand the procedures, laws, and how local judges handle similar cases.
California's CPS can remove a minor if they are neglected. As per the law, removal is allowed in cases where the child is abused. According to Child Protective Services, abuse happens if a minor is neglected by a caretaker or parent who fails to provide enough food, shelter, clothing, supervision, or medical care.
Before removal, CPS tries to provide support to have the child remain in the family home. However, if it determines that the minor cannot stay in the family home even after it has given its support, it will arrange for foster placement.
Should I Talk to a Social Worker or DCFS Agent About an Ongoing Investigation Into Child Neglect?
Ideally, speak limitedly with DFCS/CPS and call an attorney as soon as possible. If a social worker contacts you, you should ask them politely about the basis of their investigation and whether the specific allegations and charges are beyond broader categories of neglect or abuse. Firmly but politely insist that they tape any interrogations concerning your child. Do not permit investigators inside your home if they have not issued you a warrant.
The Penalties for Violating PC 270
Neglecting a minor can have criminal and administrative ramifications. Most PC 270 violations are misdemeanors punishable by up to two thousand dollars in fines and a county jail sentence of a year upon conviction.
A PC 270 violation may also be considered a felony offense, although this is rare. It happens when a parent neglects to provide a child with care after the court rules that they are a parent. For example, this would occur if, during a paternity case, the judge found that a man was a minor's father, but he still declined to provide the child with necessities.
If convicted of a felony PC 270 violation, you will be subject to up to a year in incarceration, a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars, and a year plus a day in prison.
Fortunately, a conviction for a PC 270 violation will not hurt your immigration status (if you are an immigrant). An alien can sometimes be labeled inadmissible or deported after being found guilty of an offense in California. Offenses that make an immigrant be inadmissible or deported are aggravated felonies and crimes that involve moral turpitude. Child neglect is neither an aggravated felony nor a crime that involves moral turpitude; therefore, it will not subject you to deportation or inadmissibility if you are a convicted immigrant.
Being convicted under PC 270 will also not affect your firearm rights unless it is a felony sentence. California law states that a convicted felon cannot own/possess a firearm. Therefore, if pronounced guilty of a felony child neglect offense, you will be stripped of your firearm rights. A misdemeanor conviction under this law will not impact your firearm rights.
Conviction Record Expungement for Child Neglect Cases
You can have your criminal record expunged if found guilty of a PC 270 violation. Criminal record expungement is beneficial because it eliminates most of the challenges of a conviction. You will be granted expungement if you complete your jail term or probation sentence, whichever the court imposed.
Note that felony convictions do not make a person eligible for a record expungement. Therefore, you will not qualify for criminal record expungement if convicted of a felony PC 270 violation.
Defending Against Child Neglect Accusations
Always remember that the burden to prove you guilty of a crime, including child neglect, lies with the prosecution's team. Therefore, a charge or an arrest is not an automatic conviction. After being accused of neglecting a child, you can try beating the charges with a solid legal defense strategy. A skilled criminal defense lawyer can assist you in arguing the defenses so that you stand a higher chance of winning. Common defenses to a PC 270 violation are:
It Was Not a Willful Act
Remember, you will only be convicted under PC 270 if you willfully neglect to provide necessities to a child. If your failure to provide was not intentional, you are not guilty. Therefore, you can argue that while you failed to give the child a necessity, it was not out of your willingness. It could be you unexpectedly lost your job and did not have any money, for example.
You Have a Lawful Excuse
Also, note that a parent who has a legal excuse for not providing necessities to their child/children has not committed any crime. Therefore, having a lawful excuse is a legal defense against child neglect charges. For instance, it could be you were in a terrible accident and were incapable of providing your child with proper care for several weeks.
False allegations are prevalent under child neglect statutes. For example, one parent may falsely blame the other for failing to keep their minor safe because they wanted more cash after the divorce proceedings, sought revenge, or was jealous. If any of these or a similar situation happened in your case, you could argue the false accusations defense.
It Was a Mere Misunderstanding
When a child uses incorrect words to describe their home environment to another person or gives a wrong account of events, a parent may be misunderstood as neglectful. You, with the help of your lawyer, can set the record straight and explain everything as it is to the court. After having your case scrutinized, and your account of events proven, the judge may be convinced to dismiss your charges.
If you have been trying hard to provide necessities for your young one but failing to meet your expectations, the prosecutor should not file charges against you. And if they charge you, they are likely not to prevail. Remember that though it might seem simple to represent yourself, a lawyer who understands codes, procedures, and laws is ideal for assisting you in presenting the most solid defense. Therefore, you want to hire one.
Crimes Related to Child Neglect
Various criminal charges are related to a PC 270 violation because they share some elements. This is to say that the prosecution can charge you with a related crime alongside or instead of child neglect. Crimes related to child neglect are:
PC 270.1(a), Failure to Supervise Child's School Attendance
PC 270.1(a) is the state's truancy statute that makes it an offense if a guardian or parent provides insufficient supervision of a minor's school attendance. Under this law, a child refers to a person aged six years and above and in grades kindergarten through 8th grade.
Violating PC 270.1(a) is a misdemeanor punishable by a county jail sentence of one year and up to two thousand dollars in fines. Instead of jail, the court may order summary probation.
PC 273(d), Child Abuse
PC 273(d) is the state's law on child abuse. It makes it unlawful for you to impose cruel punishment/physical injury upon a minor. Reasonable corporal punishment and one done in good faith are legal.
For you to be convicted of child neglect, there need not be bodily harm or disfigurement on the minor.
Violating PC 273d is a wobbler crime. A wobbler is a crime the prosecution can charge either as a felony or misdemeanor based on the defendant's criminal history and case facts. If convicted of misdemeanor child abuse, you will be subject to a year in jail, up to 6,000 dollars in fines, and summary probation. If convicted of a felony, you will face two, four, or six years in prison, a fine not exceeding $6,000, and felony probation.
Your incarceration period will increase by four years if you have a past child abuse conviction unless you finished serving any incarceration term for every past conviction more than ten years ago and have not served time for any other felony in the past ten years.
PC 273(a), Child Endangerment
PC 273(a) is the state's law on child endangerment. It criminalizes willfully exposing a minor to pain, suffering, or danger. Remember that this law punishes the likelihood of injury to a minor, whereas 273(d) PC punishes actual injury to a minor.
The consequences for PC 273(a) violation depend on whether the danger subjected to the minor included significant bodily injury or death. If the child did not risk significant bodily injury or death, the crime is a misdemeanor punishable by one year in jail, up to a thousand dollars in fines, and summary probation.
If the minor did face the possibility of significant bodily injury/death, the criminal conduct would be considered a wobbler. If convicted of a felony, you will be subject to up to ten thousand dollars in fines, two, four, or six years in prison, and felony probation.
You want to consult a knowledgeable attorney immediately if several charges are filed for one crime. The attorney may be capable of successfully convincing the prosecution to reduce those charges if having all of them dropped is impossible.
You Can Face Child Neglect Charges Even If You Do Not Have Custody
As a child's parent, the law can hold you criminally liable for neglecting them, whether or not you have physical or legal custody. California recognized two types of custody orders— legal and physical custody. Legal custody entails the responsibility and right to be part of or make important decisions concerning the child's welfare, education, and health. Physical custody entails who the child stays with.
If you were never married or are divorced and do not have arranged child custody agreement with the other parent, you might not have legal or physical custody. But if the involved child fails to receive necessities and it is established that they are neglected, lack of physical custody does not suffice as a valid excuse.
Find an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
Child neglect charges and consequences usually depend on case facts, but nearly all charges can result in incarceration, leaving a person separated from their family. Often, a child neglect conviction will hurt the relationship and trust you have built with your children, spouse, and other family members. It can also hurt your career, particularly if you work around children or other dependent people like the elderly. If you have been charged, please contact skilled criminal defense lawyers at Chula Vista Criminal Attorney at 619-877-6894 for a free, comprehensive consultation. We will ensure your rights are well protected, and your voice heard.