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Child Neglect

The law is very protective of children. If a parent/guardian negligently fails to provide a child’s basic needs, they could face child neglect charges. Everyone, including children, requires specific necessities like food and shelter for their physical wellbeing. Children are not able to provide for themselves. The responsibility lies with their parents or immediate caregivers. However, some parents have been accused of neglecting this responsibility and leaving their children without even the most basic needs.

In California, child neglect is an offense that is taken very seriously, a conviction of which could be life-changing. If you face child neglect charges in Pasadena, it is advisable to contact an experienced criminal attorney. Contact the Pasadena Criminal Attorney if you have been charged with Child Neglect. We could help you fight for your rights and avoid the severe consequences of this offense.

Legal Definition of Child Neglect

When children are born, they require love, attention, and necessities until they can provide for themselves. The law requires parents to take this responsibility. They must support their children and provide all the basic needs such as shelter, food, clothing, and care until their children attain a legal age.

Child neglect occurs when parents fail to do this, even when they can care for and provide for their children. A parent who faces charges for child neglect can be arrested and tried in a criminal court. If found guilty, he/she could face serious consequences, including serving time in jail and paying a hefty penalty.

Child neglect goes beyond failing to provide the physical necessities of a child. It could take any of the four forms of neglect, namely:

  • Physical neglect — Is the most common form of negligence. Physical neglect occurs when a parent or guardian fails to provide a child’s physical needs, such as shelter, food, and physical supervision.
  • Medical neglect — Occurs when a parent fails to provide a child’s medical and mental health treatment.
  • Educational neglect — Occurs when parents fail to meet the educational needs of a child adequately.
  • Emotional neglect — Occurs when parents or guardians deny the emotional needs of a child.

The law requires parents to provide all the child’s needs, not provide some, and leave out others. Law enforcement agencies and the courts will do everything in their power to ensure that a parent/guardian who is guilty of child neglect faces the full wrath of the law.

The problem is that some parents and caregivers are falsely accused of child neglect and sometimes punished for an offense they did not commit. The criminal justice system allows the accused the right to an attorney to avoid that. An aggressive attorney will conduct an in-depth investigation into your charges, call in witnesses, and use his/her experience and influence to fight your charges.

If you are accused of child neglect today, understand what your charges entail and what options are available for you.

You will find the law against child neglect under California Penal Code Section 270. The law requires the prosecutor to prove the case’s specific facts, which are the offense elements, beyond a reasonable doubt for the court to find the accused guilty of neglecting a child. They are:

  • That the offender is the parent of the alleged victim (child)
  • That the offender failed to offer necessities for the child
  • That the parent’s failure to be responsible for the child was deliberate/willful and with no legal excuse

As used in this law, necessities include clothing, shelter, food, medical and remedial care. Remedial care could be assistance from an official religion.

The offender must have committed the offense willfully, deliberately, or purposely. Note that an action done willfully or intentionally does not necessarily mean that it was done negligently. 

To expand further on the legal definition of child neglect, let us look at what the law means by a child/minor and the child’s parent.

According to this law, a minor/child will be any person that has not attained the legal age of 18. Remember that the law also protects children who are yet to be born. Expectant parents are also obligated by the law to provide for all the needs of the unborn child. Failing to do so can also attract charges for child neglect.

On the other hand, a parent refers to anyone who has been accorded parental responsibility for a particular child. Therefore, a parent could be:

  • A legal parent of a child
  • An adoptive parent
  • Anyone else who holds him/herself and/or is recognized as a parent

It could also mean a husband of a woman who delivers a child while that husband stays with her. Parents do not necessarily have to be the birth parents of the neglected child.

A person who lost his/her obligations and rights over a particular child because of a court order will not be considered a parent under this law.

Lack of Lawful Excuse

From the legal definition, the parent must have committed a child neglect offense without any lawful excuse. The law requires parents to do their best to offer necessities for minors under their care. A parent is said to have a legal reason not to provide for his/her children if:

  • The inability to provide is no fault of the parent.
  • The parent is incapable of making enough money.
  • The parent doesn’t have assets or an income to cater for all the child’s necessities.

Thus, a parent who cannot provide for a child because he/she spends all their earned money on unrelated stuff can face child neglect charges. The same goes for parents who fail to look for employment diligently.

Example: Sarah is a single mother of two. She earns a minimum wage and lives from one paycheck to the other. If Sarah loses her job, she may not be able to feed her two children until she finds another job. In a situation like that, Sarah will not be guilty of neglecting her children. Her inability to provide necessities for her children can be legally excused. Sarah would only be guilty of child neglect if she continued to work and still failed to provide her children’s basic needs.

Remember, the law will always assume that the defendant does not have a legal excuse not to provide for her child/children. The burden of proof is left with the defense. Your attorney must provide sufficient evidence to counter the evidence of neglect presented by the prosecutor.

Legal Defenses to Child Neglect Charges

If you are convicted for neglecting a child, you will likely face serious criminal consequences, including time behind bars, probation, and fines. Additionally, this is an offense that comes with other effects, such as damage to your reputation. It is an offense whose conviction could affect several aspects of your life. Thus, you want to avoid a sentence by all means. This is possible if you engage the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney. A highly-skilled and experienced attorney will know some defense strategies that could convince the court to either drop or reduce your charges. Some of these strategies are:

You Didn’t Act Willfully

You can only be found guilty of neglecting a child if you willfully acted the way you did. It means that you were aware of your parental responsibilities, but you chose not to provide your child’s necessities. If that is not the case, then your attorney could argue that you didn’t act deliberately. It could be that you had lost your job at the time and were in the process of finding another. It could also be that you had not received your payment at that time, and therefore did not have the money to provide for your child.

If your attorney manages to convince the court of your innocence, the court will drop your charges.

You Had a Legal Excuse

California Penal Code Section 270 allows a legal excuse justifying parents’ actions not to provide their children’s necessities. However, the law does not provide a list of reasons that could pass for legal justifications. The burden of proof is left with the defense team to explain why the parent couldn’t provide for his/her child. The court will then determine if the reason is lawful or not.

A parent who lost his/her job and has not found another one could be legally excused for not meeting his/her children’s basic needs. Same with a parent involved in an accident, since he/she will not be physically and mentally able to care for his/her children. If you fall under any of these categories, or there is another viable reason for your inability to care for your children, the court may drop your charges.

False Accusations

Unfortunately, accusations related to child abuse and domestic violence are used by some people to get back at others for reasons such as jealousness, desire for revenge, and envy. You may have been accused of neglecting your children by a former or current spouse or family member. If that is the case, your attorney will conduct an in-depth investigation into the allegations. He/she will then present the findings in court. These findings will be used to counter any evidence the prosecutor could have given in court. If the court finds out that someone else accused you falsely, it will drop your charges.

Penalties for Child Neglect Conviction

Neglecting a child is considered a severe offense in California, and it attracts both criminal and administrative penalties. If you are found guilty of child neglect in a criminal court, you are likely to receive a misdemeanor conviction, which is punished by:

  • Jail time for a maximum period of one year
  • A fine of not more than $2,000

Only rare cases of child neglect are convicted as felonies in California. It could happen if a parent/guardian fails to care for their child even after a court has ruled that he/she is the child’s parent. Situations like these are likely to happen when there was a paternity suit, in which a judge determined that you were the child’s father. If you still failed to be responsible for the minor after that, and you could do so, the court could give you a felony conviction.

If you receive a felony conviction, these are the penalties you are likely to face:

  • A maximum of one year behind bars
  • One year and one day in jail
  • A fine of not more than $2,000

Remember that this is a conviction that could affect your relationship with other family members and society members. Therefore, consequences go beyond the punishment you receive in a criminal court. 

Other Consequences

Most criminal convictions in California affect offenders beyond the criminal court. You may be wondering whether or not you will face more consequences if convicted for neglecting your child/children. Let us look at other areas in your life that are likely to be affected:

Effects on Gun Rights

A major concern for you would be if a conviction for child neglect will affect your right to own or purchase a gun. A person’s gun rights are affected if they commit a felony or serious gun-related offense. A misdemeanor conviction for child neglect will not affect your gun rights, but a felony conviction will.

California laws state that people who have a felony conviction on their record cannot possess or own a firearm. Therefore, if you already have a gun, you may be required to give it up if the court gives you a felony conviction. If, on the other hand, you were planning to purchase a firearm, you will not be permitted.

Child Removal

The next concern would be whether or not Child Protection Services will intervene and remove the neglected child from your care after your conviction. This could happen, but only in specific circumstances. The law allows a child to be removed from its home in cases of abuse. Child abuse in a case like this would be said to have happened if a parent or caregiver has neglected a child. The parent/caregiver must have failed to offer adequate basic needs like food, shelter, clothing, supervision, or medical care.

However, before Child Protection Services removes a child from its home, they will consider supporting the child while he/she lives with his/her parents. The agency may offer to provide the necessities the child is lacking at home and allow the child to remain in its home with its parents. However, if the agency is determined that the minor cannot stay with his/her family even after their intervention, CPS may arrange for foster placement.

Always remember that the court will consider the child’s best interests in its decision.

Can My Child Neglect Conviction Be Expunged?

If the court finds you guilty, a record of conviction will be added to your criminal record. It could affect you in many ways in the future, including your ability to find suitable employment. The good news is that California law allows people with criminal records to petition the court to expunge those records. Therefore, you may be eligible for expungement after a conviction for neglecting a child.

Expungement comes with several benefits you might want to consider. It will remove all the hardships associated with a conviction. Your criminal record will be public, and people can see what you have been convicted of even after years have passed. Your criminal record may influence the decision of important people and entities such as potential employers, insurance companies, and loan lenders. 

Employers may not be willing to offer a job to an ex-convict. They want to do everything possible to protect their businesses and the work environment of other employees. Thus, you may miss out on an important job, or you could find it hard to secure suitable employment. Similarly, loan lenders and insurance companies only want to deal with people they can fully trust. It could be challenging if you already have a criminal record.

This makes an application for record expungement and an excellent idea. An expunged record will not be publicly available. Therefore, no one must know that you were once convicted of a criminal offense.

However, expungement can only happen after you have completed probation or served the court’s full jail term. Then you can petition a criminal court judge to grant you an expungement.

Child Neglect and Related Offenses

California law has covered some offenses closely connected to child neglect. The crimes can be persecuted in place of or together with child neglect. Some of them are:

Child Abuse

You can find the law against child abuse under Section 273d of the California Penal Code. The law makes it illegal for any adult to impose cruel punishment or physical injuries on a minor. California criminal courts can convict child abuse as either a felony or a misdemeanor. The basis of their decision is on the severity of the offense and the offender’s criminal record. The maximum sentence an offender can receive after conviction is six years of imprisonment.

The difference between child abuse and child neglect is that child neglect doesn’t involve physical harm to a child. A parent who treats their child with cruelty and fails to provide for their basic needs can face child abuse and neglect charges.

Child Endangerment

Child endangerment laws are under Section 273a of the California Penal Code. The law defines child endangerment as deliberately exposing a minor to unjustifiable suffering, danger, or pain. Note that a person can still be charged with child endangerment even if they did not suffer actual physical harm.

A child whose parent or guardian has not provided necessities is likely to experience suffering, though not always physical suffering. For example, failing to provide enough food or medical care for a child could result in physical agony. If the parent’s excuse for not providing for the child is not justifiable, then he/she is likely to face charges for child neglect and child endangerment.

The prosecutor can convict child endangerment as either a felony or a misdemeanor. In cases where an adult exposes a child to a risk of death or severe physical harm, the offender could receive a prison sentence of up to six years.

Failing to Supervise a Minor’s School Attendance

You will find the law against parents’ or guardians’ failure to supervise school attendance under Penal Code Section 270.1(a). It makes it illegal for parents to fail in providing reasonable supervision for their children’s attendance in school. The children in question are those of school-going age, that is from six years and older. The offense is usually convicted as a misdemeanor in California, attracting a fine of not more than $2,000 and a jail term of not more than one year.

Note that the child covered under this law must be a chronic truant, meaning a child who is always absent from school without a valid reason. If the parents are aware that their child is out of school at least 10% of the school time but still fail to do anything about it, they could face charges in a criminal court under this law.

Child neglect and failing to supervise school attendance are two closely related offenses. A parent who has neglected his/her child could also face charges under Section 270.1 as he/she may also not have the time to supervise the child’s school attendance.

Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Child neglect is among the severe offenses committed against children. California law is highly protective of children. That is why the consequences of violations against children are usually grave. In addition to criminal consequences, a conviction for child neglect will affect your life in many other ways, including a damaged reputation. Fighting your charges is the only chance you have to avoid the severe repercussions. Call the Pasadena Criminal Attorney at 626-689-2277 if you face child neglect charges. We could help you through the legal process and develop a strong defense against your charges for a favorable outcome.

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