Are you facing child neglect charges in Orange County? It is easy to become confused, anxious, and depressed when you are charged with a criminal offense. A charge of child neglect can amplify these feelings since its penalties are extremely severe.

We at the Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm are willing to help you avoid these penalties. If you hire us, we will work hard and smart to help you obtain an acquittal, a dismissal, or a charge reduction.

Over the years, we have gathered extensive experience in helping defendants charged with child neglect, as well as other domestic violence offenses involving children. In the state of California, child neglect is formally known as ‘failure to provide care,’ and it is stated as a criminal offense in Penal Code 270.

The Legal Definition of Child Neglect

It is only parents who can be prosecuted for child neglect in California. As a parent, if you willfully fail to provide necessities to your child, with no lawful excuse, you risk facing child neglect charges.

Penal Code 270 sets out the four main elements that the prosecution must prove for an individual to be convicted of child neglect. These elements include:

  • The individual must be a legally recognized parent of the victimized child

  • The individual failed to provide necessities to the child

  • He/she failed to provide care to the child willingly

  • The person had no lawful excuse not to provide for his/her child

Let’s look at these four main elements in greater detail:

  1. Parent

Generally, the term ‘parent’ refers to either the biological mother or the biological father of the child. On the contrary, this term has a broad meaning as per California’s family laws.

In some situations, you may not consider yourself as the parent of a particular child – but the law does. For instance, you will be deemed to be a parent if:

You are Married to and Live with the Mother of the Child

The law considers you to be a parent if you are married to and live with the mother of the child. Specifically, you will be deemed to be the father of any child your wife delivers unless you are sterile or impotent. Also, you are a parent as per the law of any child who was born through artificial insemination, provided that you gave your written consent to this procedure.

Note that you will still be considered as a parent even if you were not the biological father of the children your wife delivered. The only way you can escape parental liability in such a situation is to institute paternity proceedings within two years after the baby has been born, and the court rules in your favor.

You are Divorced from a Spouse with Whom you had a Child

Even if you did not obtain custody over a child after being divorced, the law still considers you to be a parent of that child. You are considered a parent even if you have never seen or met the minor.

You Never Married the Child’s Parent

It isn’t a requirement for you to have married, or even date the child’s parent. A one-night stand may result in parenting duties, as per PC 270.

You Adopted or Took Legal Responsibility for the Child

You must provide care to a child whom you adopted or assumed legal responsibility. If you fail to do so, you risk facing child neglect charges. However, you can consult a children’s attorney to know how you can relieve yourself from such responsibility.

The Child is Unborn

California Penal Code 270 also protects unborn children. The legal father and mother of an unborn child should cater to its necessities.

  1. Necessities

According to PC 270, parents should provide for their children the following necessities:

  • Food

  • Shelter

  • Clothing

  • Medical care or any other form of remedial care

Food, shelter, clothing, and medical care are self-explanatory. PC 270 highlights that parents can replace medical care with remedial care. The term ‘remedial care’ refers to any form of spiritual treatment, such as prayer. Therefore, parents who do not believe in conventional medicine can request ‘faith healers’ to treat their children. These spiritual healers should be of a recognized religious denomination or a church. But in the event the child becomes extremely sick or fails to recover, the California Department of Prosecution may charge the parent under PC 273(a) – child endangerment. If the child dies, the parent may face charges of involuntary manslaughter, as per PC 192(b).

  1. Willfully

The court will hold you to have acted willfully or willingly if you do something on purpose. The term ‘willfully’ always has a negative connotation, such as engaging in unlawful activity, and it can be equated to deliberately, intentionally, or voluntarily.

The jury can convict you of child neglect if you deliberately fail to provide care to a child. If your actions can be construed to be just negligent or reckless conduct, you will not be held guilty of child neglect.

  1. No Lawful Excuse

Sometimes, you may be unable to provide necessities to your child. For instance, maybe you are unable to get a job, or you are suffering from a long term medical condition that renders you incapable of working. In such situations, you will be deemed to have a lawful excuse for failure to provide care.

According to California’s child neglect laws, an individual doesn’t have a lawful excuse if he/she refused to be hired or seek a source of income or unreasonably decided to direct his/her income towards other things. Also, a parent should prioritize the needs of his/her children. They shouldn’t rely on another person, organization, or the other parent to take care and provide for their children when they are fully capable of doing so.

The Punishments for Child Neglect

Child neglect is a wobbler, and it can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. However, the California Department of Prosecution usually charges it as a misdemeanor. The punishments for misdemeanor child neglect include summary probation, a county jail term of up to one year, and a fine not exceeding $2,000.

You will be charged with felony child neglect if you have a prior conviction of it, and the court had once ruled that you are legally recognized as the parent of the alleged neglected child, often in a paternity suit. As a felony, it attracts a county jail term of a maximum of one year, a fine of up to $2,000, and a state prison sentence of one year and one day.

Constitutional Limitations

It is rare for a father to face charges of felony child neglect. According to a California court ruling, the implementation of the felony penalties for child neglect violates the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution if the accused person does not have a prior conviction for this offense. As per this court ruling, you can only be charged with child neglect as a felony if you already have a past conviction of it, or the court had ruled that you were the father of the child.

The primary rationale that the court used when issuing this ruling is that fathers will fear to institute paternity lawsuits. Some of them may be wrongly compelled to provide child support to avoid felonious convictions.

Legal Defenses to Child Neglect

The legal defenses to child neglect often revolve around lawful excuse or lack of willfulness. You can also build your defense strategy on the most common criminal defenses, such as improper police conduct and violation of seizure and search laws. Here are some of the defenses you can use to escape a conviction of child neglect:

  1. False Accusations

Unfortunately, parents may not be immune to false accusations from an ex-partner. The accusing partner may be motivated by an evil ambition to obtain more money or revenge and jealousy. If so, your defense attorney can convince the judge to dismiss the case.

  1. Mistake of Fact

An individual may wrongly accuse you of child neglect due to a ‘mistake of fact.’ For instance, a mandated reporter may misinterpret certain signs and construe them as neglect.

According to the California Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act, certain professionals have a legal obligation to report suspected cases of child abuse and child neglect. Some examples of these professionals include the clergy, nurses and doctors, social workers, school administrators, and teachers.

If they fail to do so, the California Department of Prosecution may charge them with a misdemeanor. Also, they may risk damaging their professional reputation and be barred from future employment.

Such professionals can inform the authorities of the slightest allegation of abuse or neglect to avoid these penalties. You may counter these allegations by providing evidence showing you cared for the child and provided the required necessities, or you were willing or attempting to provide care if you do not have physical custody of him/her.

  1. You are not the Child’s Parent

If you are not legally recognized as a parent of a particular child, then you aren’t obliged to provide care to him/her. This defense is quite effective in the following circumstances:

  • The minor was born when the mother had been married to another person

  • Another person lawfully adopted the child

  • You are not the biological parent of the child, and the child wasn’t conceived with the help of artificial insemination

  • There is no written consent of the defendant if the child was conceived via artificial insemination

If you are successful in convincing the court that you are not the child's parent, the prosecutor may drop your charges, or you may obtain a dismissal.

  1. You Didn’t Act Willfully

The prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you failed to take care of your child willfully. If he/she does not successfully prove that you acted willfully, the jury will declare you innocent. In a nutshell, the prosecution must demonstrate before the court that you were deliberate in your actions, and you intended to neglect the child.

Sometimes, you may be genuinely unable to take care of or provide for your child. For instance, maybe you are unemployed, and you have no source of income. Or rather, you did not know that the child was sick, and he/she required medical attention.

  1. You have a Lawful Excuse for not Seeking Medical Help

One of the most common reasons why a parent may be arrested for child neglect is if he/she did not seek medical care when the child became ill. However, some parents do not believe in conventional medicine. As per PC 270, a parent can seek alternative ways to help cure the child, such as faith healing, or prayer.

You can utilize the defense of lawful excuse for not seeking medical help if you were arrested for child neglect because you failed to take a sick child to a clinic. Your defense attorney can argue that you were looking for alternative ways to enable the child’s recovery, and you despise conventional medicine.

However, this defense will only work if a religious organization has fully recognized the alternative healing method, and the child isn't seriously ill or is facing a risk of death. Note that if the child has a serious condition that can cause him/her to die and you fail to seek medical help, you may be charged with either the offense of involuntary manslaughter or child endangerment.

  1. You Cannot Afford to Provide for your Child

The jury will not convict you under PC 270 if you were not able to provide for your child. However, if you intend to use this defense, you must show proof that you lacked the means to provide necessities to your child, through no fault of your own.

As per California’s child care laws, parents must prioritize the needs of their children. As a parent, you must do all that it takes to provide for your child, provided that it is reasonable and lawful.

You can utilize the reasons listed below to show that you couldn’t afford to provide for your child’s necessities:

  • You were seriously ill

  • The money you had was only sufficient to provide for a few of the necessities, but not all of them

  • You were unable to find work (or enough of it) despite your efforts to do so

You cannot utilize this defense if you channeled your money towards other activities instead of providing for the child, or if you rejected some jobs because you felt that they were ‘beneath you.’

Offenses Related to Child Neglect

Several criminal offenses in California are related to child neglect. These offenses may be charged alongside, or instead of child neglect. Here are some of them:

  1. Child Abuse

PC 273(d) is California’s primary law on child abuse. The offense of child abuse is formally referred to as ‘corporal injury on a child.’ According to PC 273(d), it is unlawful for an individual to inflict cruel punishment or physical injury on a child. For instance, you may be prosecuted under PC 273(d) if you:

  • Slap a teenager because he/she was rude to you and use a razor to attempt to cut his/her ear

  • Spank a toddler using a belt that can cause bruises

  • Force a boy to kneel on a rough floor until he starts bleeding

Child abuse is categorized as a wobbler, and the California Department of Prosecution may charge it as either a felony or a misdemeanor. As a misdemeanor, it may attract a county jail term of a maximum of one year or a fine not exceeding $6,000 upon conviction. The penalties for felony child abuse include a state prison sentence of two, four, or six years, or a fine whose maximum value is $6,000. Also, you may receive an additional and consecutive state prison sentence of four years if you already have a prior conviction of child abuse.

  1. Child Endangerment

The primary law of child endangerment in California is PC 273(a). For you to be convicted of child endangerment, it isn’t a requirement for the prosecution to prove that the child suffered physical harm or injury. The court will hold you guilty of child endangerment if you placed a minor in any situation that can endanger his/her health. For instance, a mother may leave her child with a cocaine-addict to visit a salon. Or rather, a father may be drunk driving with his son inside the vehicle.

As per California’s criminal laws, the offense of child endangerment is a wobbler. This means that it can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the facts and circumstances of your case.

Although the criminal offense of child endangerment may seem to be less serious when compared to child abuse, it has severe penalties as well. Some prosecutors may simply refer to PC 273(a) as child abuse.

  1. Child Abduction

If you steal a minor in the state of California, you may be charged with the criminal offense of child abduction under PC 278. Unlike PC 207, California’s main kidnapping law, the victim of a child abduction offense is a minor and not an adult. Often, the California Department of Prosecution charges defendants with both PC 207 and PC 278 simultaneously.

Child abduction is categorized as a wobbler. As a misdemeanor, its penalties include a one-year county jail term or a fine whose maximum value is $10,000. The punishments for felony child abduction include a jail sentence of up to four years, a fine not exceeding $10,000, and an order to compensate the victim.

  1. Custody Deprivation

The criminal offense of custody deprivation is quite similar to child abduction. However, this offense only applies to non-custodial parents who deprive the custodial parent custody over the child or to a custodial parent who denies visitation rights to non-custodial parents. The crime of custody deprivation is stated in PC 278.5, and it is classified as a wobbler.

If it is charged as a misdemeanor, its punishments may include a county jail term of up to one year or a fine not exceeding $1,000. Upon conviction of felony custody deprivation, you may face a jail term of 18 months, two years, or three years, or you may pay a fine of up to $10,000. Furthermore, the court may order you to reimburse the victim or the government for the costs of locating the minor.

  1. Domestic Violence

As per the domestic violence laws of California, it is unlawful to mistreat a spouse or a domestic partner or a child. Various offenses involving domestic violence may be charged alongside, or instead of, child neglect. Some of these offenses include:

  • Corporal injury on a domestic partner or spouse, under PC 273.5

  • Domestic battery, under PC 243(e)(1)

  • Stalking, under PC 646.9

Often, domestic violence offenses are categorized as wobblers. Prosecutors may charge them as either felonies or misdemeanors, as per the facts and circumstances of your case.

What to Do if You Have Been Charged with Child Neglect

If you are facing child neglect charges, you should start preparing as soon as possible how to avoid a guilty conviction. Here is what to do if you have been charged with child neglect:

  • Remember the crucial details. An offense of child neglect cannot be committed in just one instance. Remember everything about your relationship with the minor, whether he/she was physically under your care, or if you have a health condition that prevents you from taking care of the child.

  • Gather evidence. Look for anything that can help you obtain an acquittal. For example, you can visit a doctor to get a medical evaluation of your health condition, or receipts to show that you indeed provided for the child.

  • Get an ally. Find someone you can comfortably speak with, such as a close friend or family member or professional counselor. This way, you will prevent the charges from interfering with your emotional and mental health.

  • Hire an attorney. Identify an attorney who has experience in defending child-related cases and reach out to him/her. Don’t put your future at risk by attempting to speak out for yourself.

Find a Orange County Criminal Lawyer Near Me

We at the Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm have helped numerous defendants fight child neglect charges across Orange County. Call us today at 714-740-7848 for a free case evaluation.