There are many different types of loving parents in the world. Some parents discipline their children in a soft, forgiving and patient manner, whereas certain others ascribe to the philosophy that stern discipline is a better approach. Either way is acceptable in the State of California, as a parent is generally allowed to raise a child in whatever manner he or she chooses as long as long as the child is not abused or endangered. Whatever the viewpoint in parenting, however, a parent may never fail to provide their child or children with the basic necessities of care. In the event of such absence of care toward your child, you may be charged with the crime of child neglect, or “failure to provide” under California Penal Code section 270 PC. In contrast to the similar crimes of child endangerment and child abuse, the crime of child neglect under Penal Code section 270 is one that can be committed by a parent who has hardly any contact or absolutely no contact with the child whatsoever. Failure to provide for a child or neglect of a child is committed when you, the parent or legal guardian of a minor child under the age of eighteen, willfully and intentionally fails to provide basic necessities for your child.
In order to be convicted of the crime of Penal Code section 270, the prosecution must establish and prove beyond a reasonable doubt the following elements of the crime:
Elements of Child Neglect
- The person charged with the crime is the parent of the child,
- The child is a minor, under the age of eighteen, and
- The parent willfully and unlawfully failed to provide necessities of care for the child.
Parent - What the Penal Code is referring to by “parent” is even an unmarried or divorced mother or father of a child who may not have any custody rights to the child. If your case goes to trial, and the jury hears that the child was born to the mother during the time she was living with someone, the jury is permitted to make the presumption that that “someone” is the father of the child. This is even true if the mother had multiple partners at the time that could theoretically also be the father of the child.
Necessities - Under the California Penal Code section 270 crime of child neglect, necessities include food, shelter, clothing or medical care for the child. This also includes spiritual or religious care, which can mean providing alternative medical care for the child if that is in line with the parents’ beliefs. Here is an example that makes it clearer: Robin and Carolyn are twelve years old. Their stepfather tells them that they must sleep outside in the backyard because they didn’t do their chores properly. He makes them sleep on the ground with no blankets. He tells them that they have to shower with the hose and that they will only receive one meal a day. This is an example of Penal Code section 270 child neglect on both the part of the mother and stepfather. They both had the ability to provide all of the necessities and chose to withhold them from both children in a cruel and unusual manner.
Willfully – This means intentionally or on purpose.
Unlawfully - One of the elements of Penal Code section 270 for child neglect is that there be no lawful excuse for having failed to provide necessities for a child. This means that if you have the ability you must try and find gainful employment so that you earn sufficient amount of money to pay for the necessities for your children. The failure to provide is not unlawful if you put forth a reasonable effort to find employment but are unsuccessful. Be aware that if you do have the money for your child’s necessities but choose to spend it on other things, the failure to provide will be considered unlawful. Example: Frankie has two sons. He and his wife divorced and his wife was granted full custody. Frankie was recently fired from his job and is searching for new employment. He loses his car and home and is staying in homeless shelters. His ex-wife, however, does not believe him and she takes him to court where he is eventually charged with failure to provide. During the court proceedings he was able to obtain gainful employment, but he chose to fly to Vegas and go on a drinking and gambling binge instead of providing for his children. This behavior is unlawful as it pertains to Penal Code section 270.
Additionally, you are not excused from your responsibilities of providing for your children when the other parent has the ability to do so. Even if the child is currently being cared for, you are still responsible for taking care of your child. Here is an example which depicts this scenario: Example: Frankie has two sons. He and his wife divorced and his wife was granted full custody. Frankie was recently fired from his job and is searching for new employment. He loses his car and home and is staying in homeless shelters. His wife takes over the full responsibility of making sure everything is taken care of for their children. She supports them alone for a while but she soon meets another man and gets married. The man she marries is wealthy and the children want for nothing. Frankie now feels no need to contribute as the children were well taken care of. He believed that he had no legal obligation, however, his ex-wife knew otherwise. She takes him to court and he was charged and convicted of a violation of Penal Code section 270.
Penalties for Child Neglect
Failure to provide/child neglect under Penal Code section 270 is considered a wobbler crime. This means that the prosecution can file your case as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the specific facts and circumstances involved. If you are convicted of a violation of Penal Code section 270, you may receive a maximum of one year in county jail, summary probation, and a maximum fine of $2,000. Penalties can be increased if there are previous cases in which you have been charged and convicted of a violation of child neglect.
Defenses for Child Neglect
If you or a loved one is being investigated for having committed the crime of child neglect under Penal Code section 270, or if you have already been charged with the crime, it is imperative that you seek help immediately. As a compassionate and aggressive criminal defense attorney, Leah Naparstek of the Criminal Law Office of Leah Legal has handled such cases and understands both the sensitive and urgent nature of this type of crime. Ms. Naparstek is held in high regard throughout the court system as an advocate who is dedicated and passionate about each and every one of her cases. There are several possible defenses for the crime of child neglect pursuant to Penal Code section 270, depending on the specific facts surrounding your case.
Lawful Excuse - Sometimes people find themselves in the midst of money problems…and there is no law stating that one can never struggle financially! Therefore, if you simply cannot provide for your child you are not guilty of a violation of Penal Code section 270.
Lack of Willfulness - In order to be convicted of a violation of child neglect under Penal Code 270, you must have acted willfully. You cannot be charged simply on the basis of lack of ability. You can, however, be charged if you choose to spend on things other than your children when you have the ability to care for them. If you can provide for your children and willfully and intentionally choose not to then you can be convicted under this Penal Code section. Example: Frankie has two sons. He and his wife divorced and his wife was granted full custody. Frankie was recently fired from his job and is searching for new employment. He loses his car and home and is staying in homeless shelters. His ex-wife, however, does not believe him and she takes him to court where he was eventually charged with failure to provide. Frankie hires an attorney and his attorney is able to advocate on his behalf, providing the prosecution and judge with proof that he was both unemployed and homeless, after trying diligently to look for work. In this case, it is likely that the charges will be dropped because of lack of willfulness.