Children's rights include education, health, play, family life, and recreation. Children have the right to adequate living conditions and protection from harm and abuse. Unfortunately, adults charged with protecting children's rights fall short, resulting in severe cases of child neglect. Child neglect occurs when parents or legal guardians willfully and without legal justification fail to provide children with necessities like food, shelter, clothing, and medicine.
A conviction for child neglect, even though it is a misdemeanor attracting jail time and court fines, has other serious consequences. For example, it leaves you with a damaging criminal record that can impact your social and professional life. That is why you should fight hard if you face child neglect charges in Anaheim. A skilled criminal lawyer from our California Criminal Lawyer Group team could guide you through the complex legal process and prepare a strong defense. If we worked together, we could persuade the court to dismiss or reduce your charges.
Understanding Child Neglect Laws
Penal Code 270 makes it an offense for a parent or legal guardian to willfully fail to provide a child's necessities, like food, shelter, clothing, and medical care, without a lawful excuse. The law applies to a child's biological parents or an adult designated by the court as a child's legal parent or guardian. However, it does not absolve a parent of criminal responsibility for this omission because another parent has been legally designated as the child's custodial parent or because an organization voluntarily provides the child's necessities. If you are a legal parent or guardian of a child, you will be criminally liable if your child lacks basic survival needs.
The prosecutor will seek proof of desertion or abandonment if you face child neglect charges. They will consider your reasons for failing to provide your child with necessities and corrective care. You will not face criminal charges under this statute if you have a legal justification for the omission.
The court must determine your ability to provide for your child in such cases. The prosecutor will examine your income, including gifts and insurance benefits, to establish your ability or inability to provide for your child's basic needs.
Remember that the law applies to a child's parent regardless of whether the parent is married or separated and any decision made in their divorce regarding child support and alimony payments. A child who has not yet been born is also considered an existing human being under the law.
If the victim is a child conceived through artificial insemination by your wife, you are legally considered its father if you consented to the insemination in writing.
A parent can provide remedial care for their child by treating them spiritually through prayers.
Here are some examples of acts or omissions that meet the legal definition of child neglect:
- A single mother who refuses to take her children to the hospital when they are sick to save money.
- An adoptive father who does not provide warm clothing for their child during the winter.
- Parents who fail to feed their children adequately, even when they have the financial means to buy adequate food.
Elements of the Offense
Prosecutors must work hard to build a case against a parent for child neglect. However, the law specifies the elements of this offense that a prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt for the judge to find you guilty in your case. If all of these elements are present in your case, you are guilty and deserve the penalties prescribed by law for this offense. Here are the components:
- You are the victim's mother or father.
- You failed to provide the victim with all the necessities a minor requires to survive.
- Your actions are intentional and without legal justification.
The prosecutor must first establish that you are the child's parent. You could still be a minor's parent even if you do not live with them or have not previously provided for their needs.
This law defines a child's necessities as basic survival needs. Food, clothing, shelter, health care/dental care/medical care, and remedial care are among them.
Under the law, you are guilty if your actions are willful, which means you acted willingly or purposefully. For example, you could have known you were the child's parent but failed to provide for their basic needs. It is essential to understand that willfully failing to do something is not the same as doing something negligently.
To better understand the law, let us look at some specific elements:
A Parent and a Minor
A parent's neglect of a child is an offense committed against a minor. A minor is defined by law as anyone under the age of 18. Keep in mind that this law also covers unborn children. The parents of an unborn child are legally bound to provide for the child's basic needs.
Under Penal Code 270, parents are broadly defined. Any of the following could be considered a parent:
- A biological parent of a child.
- An adoptive parent.
- A foster care parent.
- Anyone else who considers themselves as a child’s parent.
According to this law, a parent could also be the husband of a woman who has a child while still living with or married to him.
However, a parent is not anyone who has lost parental rights and obligations to the child due to a court order, a caregiver or babysitter, for example, or a former foster care parent.
A Lawful Excuse Not To Provide
Parents are only excused from providing for their children's needs if there is a legal reason not to. Otherwise, you will face charges for child neglect. The law requires parents to do what is reasonable to provide their children with the necessities of life. If you fail to comply and have no legal excuse, you will face criminal charges under this statute.
You have a legal excuse not to provide for your child's needs if:
- Your failure to provide is not your fault.
- You do not make enough money to meet your child's needs.
- You do not have a secondary source of income or investments to help you meet your child's needs.
However, failing to provide when you earn enough money but spend it on other necessities is not a legal excuse not to provide. If the prosecutor discovers that you have not worked in gainful employment or are not actively seeking work, you will face criminal charges.
Example: Betty's husband died a few months ago, leaving her to raise their three children alone. Betty was fortunate to find work in a diner, but the pay is usually insufficient to meet their needs. She recently lost her job and could not meet her children's needs.
Betty could face charges of child neglect. But she has a legal reason for not providing for her children's needs. Betty's job did not pay enough to cover all of their expenses. She also lost her job through no fault of her own. She also has no additional income or investments to meet the needs of her children.
If you are reported for child neglect, even if you have a legal reason for not providing your child with the necessities, the police will arrest you. The law assumes you do not provide because you do not want to. During the trial, you bear the burden of proving that you have a legal reason not to provide. It is important to note that solid evidence is required to support your justification for the judge to dismiss your charges. You should consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney right after your arrest.
Note: Child neglect is distinct from maltreatment, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, and domestic violence. However, it can harm a child's well-being, health, and mental and general well-being. Parents and guardians who fail to support and supervise their children emotionally and those who mistreat them put the minor at risk of developing impairments like mental illness and substance abuse.
Fighting Child Neglect Charges
If you cannot defend yourself during the trial, you will likely be convicted and face severe consequences. Fortunately, an attorney can represent and defend your interests in the face of criminal charges. The law also permits your attorney to employ various defense strategies in your case. Some of these strategies, when used correctly, can weaken the prosecutor's case, casting reasonable doubt on your case. Your lawyer can also use the appropriate defense strategy to persuade the judge to dismiss or reduce your charges. Here are some techniques you can employ in your situation:
You Did Not Act Willfully
You must have acted willfully or willingly in failing to provide your child's necessities, according to Penal Code 270. If you were aware of your parental responsibility and had the means to provide for your child but failed to do so, you would be committing a willful act. The judge will dismiss your charges if you do not commit this intentional act. Your attorney can use this defense strategy if you failed in your parental responsibility to provide but were not deliberate in your actions. It is possible you lacked the financial means to do so.
Remember that your attorney must provide solid evidence to support your actions. For example, if you used to support your child but stopped recently, you could claim that you lost your job and could not find another soon after.
You Have a Lawful Excuse Not To Provide
For the judge to dismiss your charges, you must also demonstrate a legal reason for not providing for your child's needs. This statute allows various legal justifications for failing to meet a child's needs. It is possible you did not have a job or could not work in gainful employment due to an injury or illness. However, remember that the law presumes that defendants facing child neglect charges do not have a legal reason not to provide for their children. In that case, you must demonstrate in court that you have a lawful basis for the judge to dismiss the charges.
Someone is Falsely Accusing You
False charges are common in child neglect, abuse, or endangerment cases. Some people falsely accuse others of child neglect to exact revenge out of jealousy or malice. For example, if you are divorced or separated, your partner can file a false report with the police out of vengeance or jealousy to cause legal problems. People with a falling out can easily plot an act of revenge against each other, and false accusations are usually the most common strategy.
When the police receive a report of child neglect, they are required to make an arrest. However, with the assistance of an experienced criminal lawyer, you can prepare a strong defense against your charges. To counter the false allegations, you can provide evidence you have always provided for your child. The judge will dismiss your charges if the jury agrees with your defense.
Criminal Penalties and Other Consequences of a Conviction under PC 270
PC 270 is generally a misdemeanor offense punishable by:
- One year in jail.
- A maximum court fine of $2,000.
- Misdemeanor probation.
Instead of jail, the judge can sentence you to probation. It means you will serve your entire jail sentence outside of incarceration. Depending on the circumstances of your case, you could be sentenced to one to five years on misdemeanor probation. You will be under the direct supervision of the court while on probation. The judge will require you to submit performance reports regularly. Based on these reports, the judge will decide whether to continue or terminate probation and send you to jail for the entire term required by law.
In addition, the judge will impose probation conditions on you, which you must follow. Any violation of a probation condition is a crime punishable by law. Some of the consequences of child neglect include:
- Restitution and payment of court fines.
- While on probation, you must not commit another crime.
- To remain within the jurisdiction of the court.
- To provide the court with progress reports regularly.
- Volunteering in the community.
- To go through drug and/or alcohol rehab.
Only in rare circumstances is child neglect prosecuted as a felony. When you fail to meet your child's needs after a court declares you the child's legal parent, you could face felony charges under this law. For example, suppose a paternity lawsuit was filed, and the court ruled that you were the child's parent. In that case, you will face felony charges if you refuse to accept parental responsibility and fail to provide for the minor.
If you are guilty of a felony offense under this law, you could face the following penalties:
- A maximum of one year in jail.
- One year and one day in prison.
- A court fine of $2,000.
If you are guilty of a felony offense for child neglect, you could face additional legal consequences. For example, you could lose your right to own or possess a gun. Except in certain circumstances, like a felony conviction, adults have the right to acquire or possess firearms. Depending on the circumstances of your case, you could lose these rights permanently or temporarily after a felony conviction. As a result, if you already own a firearm, you must surrender it following your conviction.
In addition, if you are guilty of child neglect, Child Protective Services (CPS) can take action against you. CPS promotes children's rights. If a child is neglected, they can remove them from their parents. The law allows the removal of a child from its parent’s custody in case a child is suffering abuse. Abuse, according to CPS, happens when:
- A parent or a child’s caregiver neglects a child.
- A parent or guardian fails to meet a child’s needs like food, clothing, medical care, shelter, and supervision.
However, before removing your child from custody, CPS will attempt to provide the necessary support while the child is still in your care. However, if there are reasons to believe that the child's well-being is in jeopardy while under your supervision, even with CPS's assistance, CPS will arrange for foster placement for your child.
Criminal Record Expungement After a Child Neglect Conviction
Fortunately, you can petition the court to expunge your record after conviction to avoid some of the harsh consequences of a criminal conviction. Remember that a sentence can impact many aspects of your life. Some of these effects can occur long after you have served your jail time or probation and paid all necessary fines. For example, you could need help finding suitable employment because most potential employers conduct background checks before hiring. Some employers would not hire someone with a criminal record.
You can avoid some of these harsh consequences through expungement. Anyone who conducts a background check on you will know your criminal history, even if it occurred years ago. That could have an impact on how they perceive you. However, expungement removes your criminal conviction from public view, giving you a fresh start.
Expungement aims to remove all disabilities and negative consequences associated with a criminal conviction. No one should be aware of the sentence unless you tell them. Only when applying for public office must you legally disclose your conviction.
However, you can only request an expungement once you have served your sentence for the underlying offense. If you were sentenced by a judge, you must serve your sentence before you can begin the expungement process. If you were placed on probation, you must complete it while taking care not to violate any of the terms of your probation.
When you apply to the court, the judge will consider the facts of your case and your jail or probation reports. The judge will remove the conviction from your record if they grant your petition.
Child Neglect and Related Offenses
Some legal offenses are closely related to child neglect. Some can be prosecuted with PC 270, while others can be charged in place of PC 270. These are some examples of these offenses:
Child abuse occurs when you willfully inflict inhumane corporal punishment or an injury that causes a traumatic condition on a child, according to PC 273(d). Examples of actions that could support child abuse charges include:
- Slapping a minor hard, leaving a mark on their face.
- Punching a minor because of poor academic performance.
- When disciplining a child, using a belt to hit them more than necessary.
It is important to note that reasonable punishment is not abuse if done in good faith.
Depending on the circumstances of your case, child abuse can result in misdemeanor or felony charges. A misdemeanor conviction is punishable by up to one year in jail, while a felony conviction is punishable by up to six years.
Both child abuse and child neglect are crimes against children. However, they differ in that child neglect does not include the infliction of physical harm to a minor. The definition of child neglect is failing to meet a child's basic needs.
Penal Code 273(a) defines child endangerment as intentionally exposing a minor to unjustifiable danger, pain, or suffering. If the prosecutor believes you expose a child to an unreasonable risk of harm, you could face child endangerment charges. Even if the child suffered no physical injury, the charges would stand. What matters is that you put the child in a situation where they are at risk of harm.
For example, leaving dangerous weapons within a child's reach at home, like a loaded firearm or knife, or driving with a child under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
This statute punishes the possibility of a child facing a risk of harm, whereas child neglect punishes actual child harm.
Find a Competent Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me
Do you or someone you know face charges of child neglect in Anaheim?
The first step is to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney. Your attorney will assist you in understanding the meaning of your charges and the legal implications. They will also investigate your case to discuss your options and strategies for obtaining a favorable outcome. At California Criminal Lawyer Group, we could begin this difficult legal journey with you. We can work together to build a strong defense against your charges and persuade the judge to dismiss or reduce your charges. To learn more about our services, please contact us at 714-766-0965. We will only rest once you receive a fair resolution for your case.