"Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor"
Penal Code 272 PC
Contributing to the delinquency of a minor is a common crime for which thousands of people in California get prosecuted every year.
The most classic scenario is an adult who gets caught supplying alcohol or drugs to a teenager. But as the article below explains, Penal Code 272 PC is actually much broader than most people realize. Parents and strangers alike can get prosecuted for any behavior that tends to lead a minor down a path towards criminality, truancy from school, or becoming a dependant of the juvenile court.
At the same time, this is a crime for which many innocent people get falsely accused...often harming their family, career, and reputation.
We're a statewide law firm of former cops and former prosecutors that helps clients fight these sorts of charges.
In this article, our California criminal defense attorneys1 explain Penal Code 272 PC by addressing the following:
If, after reading this article, you would like more information, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
You may also find helpful information in our related articles on Penal Code 273 PC California's Child Endangerment Law; Penal Code 288 PC California's Lewd Acts with a Minor Law; Child Pornography Laws; Presenting / Sending Harmful Matter to a Minor with the Intent of Seducing the Minor; California Sex Crimes; Penal Code 290 PC Sex Offender Registration; Penal Code 207 PC California's Kidnapping Law; Penal Code 236 PC California's False Imprisonment Law; Penal Code 646.9 PC California's Stalking Law; Business and Professions Code 25658 California's Furnishing Alcohol to a Minor Law; Infractions; Misdemeanors; Felonies; Wobblers; Legal Defenses; Criminal Convictions can Cost California Teachers Their Teaching Credentials; California Expungement Law; Certificates of Rehabilitation; and Governor's Pardons.
California Penal Code 272 defines "contributing to the delinquency of a minor" as
- committing an act, OR
- failing to perform a duty
- that causes a minor (that is, a person who is under 18) to become or remain
a) a dependant of the juvenile court,
b) a delinquent, or
c) an habitual truant.2
PC 272 applies not only to adults who contribute to the delinquency of a minor. It also applies to minors themselves who contribute to the delinquency of other minors.3
Let's take a closer look at some of these terms/phrases to gain a better understanding of their legal meanings.
You commit an act or fail to perform a duty
"Acting" implies intent. If you commit an act, it means that you engage in intentional behavior.
If you "fail to perform a duty" you either (1) intentionally fail to act, or (2) negligently fail to act. If your omission is based on negligence, that negligence must rise to the level of "criminal negligence" in order to make you liable for a crime.
Criminal negligence is more than ordinary carelessness, inattention, or mistake in judgment. You act with criminal negligence when your behavior is so different from the way an "ordinarily careful person" would act in the same situation that you essentially express an "I don't care" type of attitude.4
Example: You are the passenger in a minor's car. The minor is driving recklessly as he exceeds speeds of 90mph, weaves, and "cuts off" other drivers. By allowing him to continue to drive like this...without encouraging him to drive safely...you fail to act.
By failing to act, your passive behavior could result in the minor being arrested for reckless driving or worse in the event that he causes injury/death to another person in an accident. Moreover, this could result in you being arrested for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Become or remain a dependant, delinquent, or truant
For purposes of PC 272, it doesn't matter whether the child is already a dependant, delinquent, or truant. Whether you cause the child to fall into one of these categories or simply encourage behavior that continues to lead the minor down the "wrong path" doesn't matter...either way, you could be held liable.5
Similarly, it doesn't matter whether the child actually becomes delinquent. As long as the prosecutor can prove that your conduct (or failure to act) had the tendency to cause the child to become delinquent, you can be convicted of this offense.6 And the quantity of these "tendencies" is irrelevant...even a single act that provides the delinquent tendency will suffice.7
- using a minor to transport drugs,8
- asking a minor to meet for a "secret rendezvous",9
- knowingly providing a place for a minor to engage in sexual activity,10
- engaging in sexual activity with a minor,11
- asking a minor to pose nude...or even partially nude...for pictures,12 and
- furnishing alcohol to a minor (discussed under Section 4. Related Offenses).13
Dependant of the juvenile court
There are numerous ways for a child to become a "dependant" of the juvenile court. Some examples include (but are not necessarily limited to) situations where the minor's parent/guardian
- inflicts serious physical harm on the child (or on one of the child's siblings)...or places the minor at risk of suffering such harm (serious physical harm includes sexual abuse that the parent/guardian either inflicted on the child or knowingly failed to prevent),
- subjects the child to severe emotional abuse/damage, and/or
- neglects to provide food, clothing, shelter, or...in certain cases, medical care...for the child.14
A delinquent child is a minor who has committed a crime...which even includes violating an age-based curfew...or who habitually refuses to obey reasonable orders or directions from his/her parent/guardian. A child who is beyond a parent's control may be classified as a delinquent.15
A child may be classified as a "habitual truant"...and become a ward of the juvenile court...if he/she has four or more unexcused absences from school in any one school year.
Therefore, encouraging a minor to "ditch" school (or enabling him/her to do so) subjects you to charges for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.16
Subdivision (a)(2) of Penal Code 272 deals with parents' duties and responsibilities. In this respect, this offense is very similar to Penal Code 273a PC California's child endangerment law.
This is because...much like California's child endangerment law...Penal Code 272(a)(2) PC holds parents liable for failure to exercise
- reasonable care,
- protection, and/or
over their children.17 The purpose of the law is to help safeguard children from those influences which could cause them to become or remain delinquent.18 If parents fails to supervise, control and protect their minor children...and that failure results in the children's delinquency / dependency...the parents could be liable for contributing to the delinquency of minors.
However, if the parent reasonably tries to control his/her child but is simply unable to do so, he/she does not act with criminal negligence and...as a result...should not be prosecuted.19
Another subdivision of PC 272 addresses "strangers" who contact minors under 14 years of age. PC 272(b)(1) prohibits an adult stranger...that is, a person 21 years or older who has no substantial relationship with the minor or who has only established a relationship for the purpose of victimization...from knowingly contacting or communicating with a minor under 14 for the purpose of
- persuading and luring, or
the minor away from his/her home or any location known by the minor's parents/guardians. Although this "persuading, luring, or transporting" may be for any reason, the "stranger" must intend to avoid the consent of the minor's parent/guardian.20
However, if the stranger
- obtained consent from the parent/guardian, or
- only acted in an "emergency" situation to prevent the minor from imminent physical, emotional, or psychological harm,
he/she is not liable for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.21
Fortunately, there are a variety of legal defenses to a Penal Code 272 PC contributing to the delinquency of a minor charge that a skilled California criminal defense lawyer can present on your behalf. Some examples include (but are not limited to):
It's easy for people to get wrongly accused of improprieties involving minors. This is because
- many children know that they can falsely accuse an individual of a crime in order to "get back at them" for one reason or another, or to gain attention; and/or
- many adults know they can hurt or damage another adult's reputation by accusing the person of a crime involving a child (often as a form of revenge, jealousy, or to gain an upper hand in a custody or divorce battle).
If you have been falsely accused of violating Penal Code 272 PC California's contributing to the delinquency of a minor law, you should immediately consult with a California criminal defense attorney who can investigate the case and expose the falsehoods.
The crux of this law is that you are contributing to the delinquency of a minor. This means if you did not know...and there was no reason for you reasonably to know...that the person was under 18 years of age, you shouldn't be held liable for this offense.22
It bears repeating that if you are a parent accused of failing to exercise reasonable care, protection, or control over your own child...and that failure potentially causes your child to become or remain a delinquent...you are liable under Penal Code 272. But only if you did nothing to prevent it.
However, if you reasonably tried to protect and/or control your child...but because of your child's strength, temper, will-power, or outright defiance, you are simply unable to do so...you have not violated California's contributing to the delinquency of a minor law.
Whether or not you made sufficient effort to control the child is ultimately a matter for the judge/jury to determine. This is why having an experienced criminal defense attorney is essential.
As Santa Ana criminal defense lawyer Al Amer23 explains, "The key to a successful defense in a Penal Code 272 PC prosecution is demonstrating that the client's acts were reasonable and did nothing to encourage delinquency or dependency. A savvy attorney who has mastered this area of the law is in the best position to do that."
If you are accused of violating California Penal Code 272(b)(1)...that is, being an adult stranger who has communicated with or contacted a minor under 14 to lure him/her away from his/her known location...you should be vindicated of any criminal wrongdoing if you first obtained parental consent.
This means that if you obtained consent from the minor's parent/guardian to be with or communicate with the minor, this should serve as an effective legal defense.
And remember, if you only contacted or communicated with the minor to help protect him/her in an emergency situation, you may escape criminal liability on that basis as well.
Generally, California's law against contributing to the delinquency of a minor is a misdemeanor, punishable by
- up to one year in a county jail,
- a fine of up to $2,500, and
- up to five years of informal probation.24
However, if you are charged under Penal Code 272(b)(1), the offense is what's known as a wobbler. A "wobbler" is a crime that the prosecutor may charge as either a misdemeanor or an infraction.25
If you are convicted a misdemeanor under this subdivision, you face up to six months in jail and a maximum $1,000 fine.26
If you are convicted an infraction under this subdivision, you simply face a maximum $250 fine.27
Contacting or communicating with a minor under 14 that contribute to the minor's dependency or delinquency is, therefore, a relatively minor offense. However, if you actually lure or transport the minor away from his/her location...or monitor the child's whereabouts to plan your contact or communication...you could alternatively be charged with
- Penal Code 207 PC California's kidnapping law...a felony punishable by up to 11 years in the California state prison,28
- Penal Code 236 PC California's false imprisonment law (a wobbler that could be punished as a misdemeanor or a felony, also subjecting you to incarceration in the state prison),29 and/or
- Penal Code 646.9 PC California's stalking law (another felony/misdemeanor wobbler that subjects you to a state prison sentence).30
In addition to the penalties above, there are a few others that may be imposed in connection with a Penal Code 272 PC conviction.