Penal Code 270 PC - Child Neglect Laws in California
While the State of California attempts to give parents the right to raise their children as they see fit, state law also protects the rights of those children to have their most basic needs met.
If you are accused of willfully denying basic care to a child you are parenting or for whom you are legally responsible, you may be charged with the crime of child neglect under Penal Code 270 PC. You could face significant jail time and fines of up to $2000 per offense if convicted.
Under PC 270 PC, child neglect occurs when a parent willfully and without lawful excuse fails to provide them necessities such as clothing, food, medicine, and shelter.
PC 270 says, “If a parent of a minor child willfully omits, without lawful excuse, to furnish necessary clothing, food, shelter or medical attendance, or other remedial care for their child, they are guilty of a misdemeanor. If a court has made a final adjudication in either a civil or criminal action that a parent of a minor child and they have notice of such adjudication. They willfully omit to furnish necessary items for care; this conduct is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail of up to one year and a fine up to $2,000, or both.”
The statute further says that proof of abandonment or desertion of a child by a parent or failure to provide the necessary care is prima facie evidence is willful. When determining the ability of the parent to support their child, the court must consider all income, including social insurance benefits and gifts.
PC 270 child neglect is sometimes related to domestic violence offenses. Let's review this state law further below.
What Is Considered Child Neglect?
Under Penal Code 270 PC, child neglect is defined as willfully depriving a minor of necessary food, clothing, shelter, or medical attention.
This applies to any parent or legal guardian who fails to provide these basic needs for the minor child in their care. The law criminalizes explicitly anyone who "willfully omits, without lawful excuse, to furnish necessary clothing, food, shelter or medical attendance, or other remedial care for his or her child."
Here are some of the finer points needed to understand the scope of this law:
A "minor child" is any child under the age of 18.
For purposes of this law, unborn children are also included in the definition of "minor child." This technically means a pregnant mother or expectant father could also be charged with child neglect for failing to provide primary care for the unborn fetus.
A "parent" of a minor child is broadly defined as whoever is legally responsible for the child's care. This includes:
- Biological parents;
- Adoptive parents;
- Foster parents;
- Anyone else holding themselves out as a parent;
- The husband of a pregnant woman, even if the child is not his, if he currently lives with her.
Under this law, you cannot be charged with child neglect if a court order has stripped you of your parental rights and responsibilities.
However, you are not exempt from criminal charges simply because you do not have legal custody or any responsibility for child support.
The phrase "lawful excuse" refers to a situation in which a parent has reasonably done everything possible to provide for the child but cannot do so.
The most notable example is if a parent cannot make enough income or does not have enough assets to provide the child's basic needs, in which case the parent has a "lawful excuse" and won't be charged with a crime.
"Other remedial care" refers to alternate recognized treatments, such as "treatment by spiritual means through prayer alone in accordance with the tenets and practices of a recognized church or religious denomination..."
This clause effectively provides protection from criminal liability for those whose religious beliefs prohibit them from seeking conventional medical care for their children. However, it also makes them responsible for seeking "remedial care" when necessary.
What Are the Related Crimes?
Several California laws are related to Penal Code 270 PC child neglect, including the following:
- Penal Code 273d PC – child abuse;
- Penal Code 273a PC – child endangerment,
- Penal Code 270.1 PC – school attendance,
- Penal Code 243(e)(1) PC – domestic battery.
What Are the Penalties for PC 270?
In most cases, child neglect under PC 270 is charged as a misdemeanor offense, punishable by fines up to $2000 and up to one year in county jail per offense. However, it can be punished as a felony offense in some instances if:
- You deny the child is legally yours (usually paternity);
- The court that you are, in fact, a legal parent; and
- You continue to neglect to meet the basic needs of the child.
In the rare event that you're convicted of felony child neglect, you could face a year in county jail, followed by a year and a day in state prison—and a fine of up to $2000.
What About Child Protective Services?
Can Child Protective Services (CPS) take your child if you are charged with child neglect? In some cases, yes. Under normal conditions, CPS only removes a child from their home in cases of suspected abuse.
However, CPS also counts it as abuse to neglect to provide food, clothing, shelter, or medical care to a child, effectively the definition of child neglect under PC 270.
That said, CPS will usually only remove the child as a last resort. They will start by trying to procure support to care for the child within the home, and they will only remove the child if the child is still not being cared for with the additional support.
What Are the Defenses for PC 270?
If you're accused of child neglect, there are a few common legal defenses your California criminal defense attorney may use to defend you in court. These are discussed below.
Perhaps we can argue there was no willful neglect. To convict you of child neglect, prosecutors must show you willfully neglected to provide for your child.
You may avoid conviction if you show the neglect was unintentional. For example, perhaps you suddenly lost your income. Maybe we can argue that you had a "lawful excuse" for not providing the necessary care.
For example, suppose you are physically unable to make enough money to provide for your child or were involved in an accident that precluded you from providing care. In that case, you may be able to avoid conviction on the grounds of having a lawful excuse.
Perhaps we can negotiate with the prosecutor for reduced charges or a case dismissal. Maybe through prefiling intervention, we can convince the prosecuting agency not to file formal criminal charges in the first place (DA reject).
You can contact our law firm for a case evaluation by phone or using the contact form. Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles, CA.