Contributing to the delinquency of a minor is a crime that can be charged when a person acts or fails to act in a way that causes a minor (a person under the age of 18) to:
- engage in illegal or delinquent behavior,
- become a habitual truant, or
- become a dependent of the juvenile court system.
In California, the crime of contributing to the delinquency of a minor is set forth in Penal Code 272 PC. This offense is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in county jail and fines of up to $2500.00.
The language of PC 272 states that
Every person who commits any act or omits the performance of any duty, which act or omission causes or tends to cause or encourage any person under the age of 18 years to [become a]…ward or dependent child of the juvenile court… is guilty of a misdemeanor.
Examples of unlawful acts
- letting a 13-year-old niece use a spare bedroom to have sex with her 19-year-old boyfriend.
- giving cigarettes and alcoholic beverages to a 16-year-old son and his friends.
- encouraging a minor to skip school.
Our criminal defense lawyers advise clients that there are three effective defenses to charges under this statute. These are the defendant showing that he/she:
- did not know a person was under 18 years of age,
- could not reasonably control a child, and/or
- was falsely accused.
The crime is punishable by:
- custody in county jail for up to one year, and/or
- a maximum fine of $2,500.
A judge does have the authority to award a defendant with misdemeanor (or summary) probation in lieu of jail time.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will explain the following in this article:
- 1. When is contributing to the delinquency of a minor a crime in California?
- 2. What are the best defenses to Penal Code 272 PC?
- 3. What are the penalties?
- 4. Can a person get a PC 272 conviction expunged?
- 5. Are there related offenses?
1. When is contributing to the delinquency of a minor a crime in California?
A prosecutor must prove the following elements of the crime to successfully convict a person under this statute:
- the defendant committed an act or failed to perform a duty, and
- in doing so, the defendant caused or contributed to causing a minor to become a delinquent, a habitual truant, or a dependent child of the juvenile court.1
For purposes of this statute, note that California criminal law imposes a duty upon parents and legal guardians of minors to exercise reasonable care, supervision, protection, and control over the minor.2
In order to commit this crime, a person must act with either:
- general criminal intent, or
- criminal negligence.3
In order to act with general criminal intent, a person must not only commit the prohibited act, or fail to do the required act, but must do so intentionally or on purpose.4
A person acts with criminal negligence when:
- he/she acts in a reckless way that creates a high risk of death or great bodily injury, and
- a reasonable person would have known that acting in that way or course of conduct would create such a risk.5
1.1 Delinquent, truant, and dependent of the juvenile court
To be guilty under these laws, a person must contribute to causing a minor to become a:
- habitual truant, or
- dependent child of the juvenile court.
For purposes of this code section, the legal definition of a “delinquent child” is a minor who has been found by a court to have committed a crime.6
A “habitual truant” means that such child:
- has violated an age-based curfew,
- habitually and persistently refused to obey the reasonable orders of his/her parent or guardian, and/or
- has four or more unexcused absences from school in a school year.7
Minors become dependents of California’s juvenile court system for any of the following reasons:
- they are a victim of child abuse,
- they are a victim of child neglect,
- they suffer severe emotional damage as a result of mistreatment or neglect by a parent or guardian,
- they are a victim of sexual abuse,
- they are left without a means of support,
- their sibling is the victim of abuse or neglect, and/or
- they are subjected to an act of cruelty by a member of their household.8
2. What are the best defenses to Penal Code 272 PC?
A person accused under these laws has the right to challenge the accusation with a legal defense. Three effective defenses include the defendant showing that he/she:
- did not know that the person was a minor.
- could not reasonably control a child.
- was falsely accused.
2.1 Did not know a person was under 18
A person is only guilty under this statute if they contribute to the delinquency of a person under the age of 18. This means it is a defense for an accused to show that he/she did not know the person was a minor.
2.2 Could not reasonably control a child
Recall that California law requires parents and guardians to exercise reasonable care and control over minor children. Therefore, it can be a defense is for a defendant to show that despite exercising reasonable care, he/she simply could not control a child.
2.3 Falsely accused
Unfortunately, children falsely accuse adults of violating this statute all the time. Reasons for false accusations may include:
- revenge, or
No matter the reason, though, an accused can always attempt to assert that he/she was unjustly blamed for this crime.
3. What are the penalties?
A violation of this statute is a misdemeanor offense.9
The criminal charge is punishable by:
- custody in county jail (as opposed to state prison) for up to one year, and/or
- a maximum fine of $2,500.10
A judge has the discretion to award a defendant with misdemeanor probation in lieu of a jail term.
4. Can a person get a PC 272 conviction expunged?
Someone convicted of this crime can get the conviction expunged. The pertinent code section is Penal Code 1203.4 PC.
An expungement requires that the defendant successfully completes:
- his/her jail time, or
- probation (whichever was imposed).
5. Are there related offenses?
There are three crimes related to contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Depending on the case, law enforcement may also arrest a suspect for:
- furnishing marijuana to a minor – HS 11361,
- furnishing alcohol to a minor – BPC 25658, and
- sending harmful material to a minor – PC 288.2.
5.1 Furnishing marijuana to a minor – HS 11361
Health and Safety Code 11361 HS is the California statute that makes it a crime for adults to:
- sell, give, or offer marijuana to a minor,
- induce a minor to use marijuana, or
- employ or use a minor to transport, sell or give away marijuana.
Depending on the facts of the case, it is possible for an adult to be charged under both:
- PC 272, and
- HS 11361.
5.2 Furnishing alcohol to a minor – BPC 25658
As with PC 272, a violation of this law is a misdemeanor offense.
5.3 Sending harmful material to a minor – PC 288.2
California Penal Code 288.2 PC makes it a crime to send, distribute or exhibit harmful, lewd, lascivious, or obscene material to a minor under the age of 18.
Unlike misdemeanor criminal offenses under PC 272, guilty charges under this statute are felony crimes in California.
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense attorney, we invite you to contact our law firm at the Shouse Law Group. We can consult in person, over a phone call, or through text message.
We have local criminal law offices in and around Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities. Call us today.
Disclaimer: Past results are not a guarantee of future results.
- CALCRIM No. 2980 – Contributing to Delinquency of Minor. Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (2020 edition). See also In re Autumn K (2013) 221 Cal.App.4th 674.
- See, e.g., Brekke v. Wills (2005) 125 Cal.App.4th 1400; and, People v. Swanson-Birabent (2003) 114 Cal.App.4th 733.
- CALCRIM No. 2980.
- See same.
- See same.
- See same.
- See same. See also Welfare & Institutions Code 601.
- CALCRIM No. 2980.
- California Penal Code 272a1 PC.
- See same.