“Contributing to the delinquency of a minor” is a commonly-charged "catch-all" crime in California.
This offense, described in California Penal Code 272a PC, occurs when someone acts, or fails to act, and as a result a minor becomes:
- A dependent of the juvenile court system;
- A juvenile delinquent; or
- A habitual truant.1
California Penal Code 272b PC, meanwhile, makes it a crime for adult “strangers” (people with no pre-existing relationship with the child) to contact a child under fourteen (14) years old in order to lure him/her away from his/her parents.2
- A woman allows her 13-year-old niece to use a spare bedroom in her house to have sex with her 19-year-old boyfriend.
- A man supplies cigarettes and alcohol to his 16-year-old son and his friends.
- Encouraging a minor to skip school.
- A member of a California street gang recruits middle-school students in a gang-dominated neighborhood to help with drug sales.
A violation of Penal Code 272(a) PC—California's “contributing to the delinquency of a minor” law—is a misdemeanor in California law.3
The potential penalties include up to one (1) year in county jail, and/or a fine of up to two thousand five hundred dollars ($2,500).4
Penal Code 272(b) PC luring a child away from his/her parents may be charged as either a misdemeanor or a California infraction.5
Charged as a misdemeanor, it carries a potential county jail sentence of up to six (6) months, and/or a fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000).6 If it is charged as an infraction, the maximum penalty is a two hundred fifty dollar ($250) fine.7
If you find yourself facing charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, you and your criminal defense attorney may want to consider one or more of the following legal defenses:
- You were falsely accused;
- You did not know the minor was under 18 years old; and/or
- You are a parent who was unable to control your child.
In order to help you better understand the California crime of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, our California criminal defense attorneys will address the following:
- 1. What does it mean to contribute to the delinquency of a minor?
- 2. What does it mean to lure or transport a minor under 14?
- 3. What are the Penal Code 272 PC penalties?
- 4. What are common defenses to the charges?
- 5. Are there related crimes?
If, after reading this article, you would like more information, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
California Penal Code 272(a) defines “contributing to the delinquency of a minor” as:
- Committing an act, OR failing to perform a duty;
- In a way that causes or encourages a minor (that is, a person younger than 18) to become either a dependent of the juvenile court, a delinquent, or a habitual truant.8
Note that being drunk or lewd in the presence of a child can also be charged under Penal Code 273(g) PC.
This is the legal definition of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Let's take a closer look at some of the terms in this legal definition.
Committing an act or failing to perform a duty
An important point about Penal Code 272(a) PC is that you can violate this law by EITHER:
- Committing a specific act; OR
- Failing to act when you have a duty to do so.9
For purposes of California's “contributing to the delinquency of a minor” law, parents and legal guardians of minors are considered to have a duty to exercise reasonable care, supervision, protection and control over the minor.10
Example: Martha is a cocaine user with a 12-year-old son, Nicholas.
Martha is aware that Nicholas sometimes finds her cocaine stash and uses it himself, but she does nothing about it. Nicholas eventually begins taking more and more of Martha's cocaine and selling it to other students at his school.
Martha could be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor—not for any specific actions, but for her failure to fulfill her duty to exercise reasonable control over Nicholas.
(She may also face Penal Code 273a PC child endangerment charges for keeping cocaine in a place where Nicholas could access it.)
If you are charged under Penal Code 272(a) PC, you are only guilty if the prosecutor can prove that you acted (or failed to act) with either:
- “General criminal intent,” or
- “Criminal negligence.”11
“General criminal intent” means that you acted intentionally or on purpose. You do not need to have intended to break the law.12
“Criminal negligence” means that:
- You acted in a reckless way that created a high risk of death or great bodily injury; and
- A reasonable person would have known that acting in that way would create such a risk.13
Example: Peter is hosting his 16-year-old niece, Sarah, for a visit. Sarah is bipolar and has a history of erratic and dangerous behavior.
One night Peter accidentally leaves his car keys where Sarah can access them. She takes his car out and drives recklessly (23103 VC), causing an accident that injures several people severely.
Peter is probably not guilty of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
He did not leave his keys out on purpose, so he did not act with general criminal intent. And a reasonable person would probably not have expected his actions to create a risk of death or great bodily injury.
A minor is any person under eighteen (18) years of age.14
In many cases, you will not be guilty of Penal Code 272 if you reasonably believed that the minor was over eighteen (18).15
Example: Raul meets Crystal at a club where people have to show IDs proving they are over 21 to enter. Crystal appears to be in her early twenties and claims to have been to this club many times before.
Raul buys Crystal several alcoholic drinks and a pack of cigarettes.
It turns out that Crystal is actually 16 and entered the club using a fake ID.
But Raul is probably not guilty of contributing to delinquency, because there was no reasonable way for him to know that Crystal was a minor.
To become a juvenile court dependent
One basis for contributing to the delinquency of a minor charges is causing a minor to become a dependent of California's juvenile court system.16
Children can become dependents 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.17
Example: Serena has two daughters, Natasha and Anastasia. Serena takes good care of Natasha but subjects Anastasia to severe physical and emotional abuse, and occasionally denies her food.
Eventually California's Child Protective Services removes both children from Serena's home due to the abuse of Anastasia.
Serena will be charged with child abuse (273d PC) for her treatment of Anastasia. But she may also be subject to “contributing to delinquency” charges with regard to Natasha, because her behavior led to Natasha becoming a juvenile dependent of the state as well.
To become a delinquent
Causing or encouraging a minor to become a juvenile delinquent is another way to violate California's “contributing to the delinquency of a minor” laws.
A minor who becomes a delinquent, for purposes of this section, is one who has been found by a court to have committed a crime.18
Typically, contributing to the delinquency of a minor charges will be filed after the minor has been found guilty in California's juvenile court process.
Example: Joshua is a 21-year-old gang member who oversees drug sales on a street corner. He recruits his 15-year-old cousin Billy to help him collect drug receipts after Billy's family suffers financial hardships.
Billy and Joshua are both eventually arrested in a police crackdown on drug transactions in their neighborhood. Billy pleads guilty to drug sales charges in juvenile court.
In addition to charges for California drug crimes, Joshua may also face charges for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
To become a “habitual truant”
You can also be charged for causing or encouraging a minor to become a “habitual truant.”
This can mean that s/he:
- Has violated an age-based curfew;
- Habitually and persistently refuses to obey the reasonable orders of his/her parent or guardian; and/or
- Has four (4) or more unexcused absences from school in a school year.19
Example: Melanie is a 23-year-old college student. She begins a lesbian relationship with Amy, a 16-year-old high school student.
Amy hates school. Melanie encourages her to “just stop going” and regularly lets Amy hang out at her house on school days so her parents will think she's at school.
As time goes on, Melanie also starts encouraging Amy to repeatedly disobey her parents by sneaking out of the house at night—and helps her do so. The situation escalates to the point where Amy's parents feel they have to ask the police for help in controlling Amy.
Melanie may be charged with PC 272 for encouraging Amy to become a habitual truant and habitually disobey her parents.
Penal Code 272(b) PC covers the distinct offense of luring or transporting a minor under the age of 14.20
This section of the law makes it a crime to:
- Knowingly contact or communicate with a minor under the age of fourteen (14);
- Knowing (or being a position where you reasonably should know) that s/he is a minor under 14;
- With the intent to persuade, lure, or transport him/her away from his/her parents or a place where his/her parents know him/her to be;
- Without the express consent of his/her parent or legal guardian; and
- With the intent to avoid the consent of his/her parent or legal guardian.21
You are only guilty of the crime of persuading, luring or transporting a minor under 14 if you are an adult stranger to the minor. This means that you must:
- Be at least twenty-one (21) years old; and
- Have no substantial relationship with the child, be merely a casual acquaintance, or have a relationship with the child that was established or promoted for the primary purpose of victimization.22
Example: George is a 36-year-old man. He lives in the same neighborhood as Jamie, an 11-year-old boy.
George has exchanged a few friendly words with Jamie and his parents from time to time. George has asked Jamie's name, but Jamie's parents don't know George's name.
One rainy day George drives his car to the local middle school and parks outside. When he sees Jamie come out of the school, he calls to him and asks if he would like a ride.
George may be guilty of Penal Code 272, subsection (b). He probably qualifies as a stranger, and he is communicating with Jamie with the intent to take him away from a place where his parents expect him to be.
3.1. PC 272(a) penalties
Contributing to the delinquency of a minor, Penal Code 272(a) PC, is a misdemeanor in California law.23
The potential penalties include:
- Misdemeanor (summary) probation for a period of up to five (5) years;
- Up to one (1) year in county jail; and/or
- A fine of up to two thousand five hundred dollars ($2,500).24
Luring or transporting a minor under 14 can be charged as either a misdemeanor OR an infraction.25
If it is charged as a misdemeanor, the potential penalties are:
- Misdemeanor (summary) probation;
- Up to six (6) months in county jail; and/or
- A fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000).26
But if it is charged as an infraction, Penal Code 272(b) carries only a potential fine of up to two hundred fifty dollars ($250).27
If you are convicted of contributing to the delinquency of a minor or luring a minor under 14—AND it is determined that your offense involved “lewd or lascivious conduct”—then you will be subject to California's sex offender registration requirement and must register for life as a tier three-sex offender.28
In other words, you are likely to face this requirement if you are convicted under Penal Code 272 for behavior that had sexual gratification or arousal as its aim.
If you are subject to California's sex offender registration requirement because of a California Penal Code 272 conviction, then you will be required to register your address with the state every year, and every time you move.
Failure to do so will result in additional misdemeanor charges for failure to register as a sex offender.29
An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you identify one or more legal defenses that you can use to fight charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
These might include:
You were falsely accused
According to San Jose criminal defense attorney Reve Bautista30:
“It's all too common for people to be wrongly accused of improprieties involving minors. Many children know that they can falsely accuse an individual of a crime in order to ‘get back at them' for something or get attention. Adults know how seriously crimes against children are taken by law enforcement—and are apt to use these kinds of accusations to destroy someone else's reputation.”
If you are falsely accused of contributing to the delinquency of a minor—or luring a child under 14—then your attorney can undertake the necessary investigations and gather the necessary evidence to ensure that the truth comes out.
You did not know the person was a minor under 18
Many of these cases involve teenagers who may looked—and acted—much older than they actually were. If you reasonably believed the minor was an adult, you may not be guilty of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.31
This defense is most likely to be effective if you are accused of behavior that was only illegal because the “victim” was a minor (such as furnishing him/her with alcohol or cigarettes) rather than behavior that would have been illegal anyway (such as involving him/her in criminal activity).32
You are a parent who was unable to control your child
The way Penal Code 272 PC is written theoretically allows prosecutors to charge the parents of children who end up truant from school, or who are found guilty of a crime in a juvenile adjudication hearing.
Prosecutors can argue that, by failing to provide him/her with adequate care and supervision, you were criminally negligent and so are guilty of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
But many parents who behave reasonably are still unable to control their children. Your child may have a mental or behavioral disorder, or may be subject to bad influences from school or a noncustodial parent that you could not control.
If this is the case, you should not be guilty of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
There are several related offenses that may be charged along with (or instead of) contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
California law, Health & Safety Code 11361 HS, makes it a separate crime to sell or give marijuana to a minor.
This crime may be charged if you:
- Sell marijuana to a minor of any age;
- Give or offer marijuana for free to a minor under 14;
- Induce a minor of any age to use marijuana; or
- Use a minor of any age to transport, sell, or give away marijuana.33
It is not uncommon for defendants to face simultaneous charges for furnishing marijuana to a minor and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
HS 11361 is a California felony and carries a potential state prison sentence of three (3) to seven (7) years.34
It is a crime to furnish alcohol to a minor under Business & Professions Code 25658.35
This includes both giving and selling alcohol to minors—and also applies to giving or selling alcohol to adults who are under 21.36
Furnishing alcohol to a minor is a misdemeanor. However, unless the minor causes a great bodily injury or death after consuming the alcohol, the only penalties are fines and community service—no jail time.37
So if you are charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor for giving alcohol to a minor, it may be wise to negotiate a plea bargain to BPC 25658.
Penal Code 288.2 PC sending harmful material to a minor is the crime of sending “obscene” matter to anyone under 18—with the intent to sexually arouse yourself or him/her, and with the ultimate goal of engaging in sexual activity with him/her.38
Harmful material sent to a minor is a more serious offense than contributing to the delinquency of a minor. It is a wobbler, which means it may be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, and it can carry a state prison sentence.39
For this reason, a contributing-to-delinquency conviction can be a preferable alternative to a PC 288.2 conviction. If you are charged with sending harmful material to a minor, you may want to pursue the possibility of a plea bargain to PC 272.
The crime of Penal Code 653b PC "loitering at a school" consists of lingering at a school or other public place where children congregate, with no lawful purpose and with intent to commit a crime if the opportunity arises.40
It is common for loitering at a school to be charged along with Penal Code 272 PC. Loitering at a school is also a misdemeanor, and the exact penalties depend on the prior criminal record of the defendant.41
California law bans the possession of a large number of kinds of fireworks, which it deems "dangerous fireworks." And if you sell, give or deliver these "dangerous fireworks" to a minor, you can be charged with a crime under Health & Safety Code 12702 HS.42
Furnishing dangerous fireworks to a minor is a misdemeanor that carries up to one (1) year in county jail and/or a fine of five hundred dollars ($500) to one thousand dollars ($1,000).43
If you sell or give illegal fireworks to a minor and s/he is charged with a crime as a result, you may face charges both for furnishing illegal fireworks to a minor and for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
5.6. BPC 25608 - Alcoholic Beverages at a Public School
Business and Professions Code 25608 makes it a misdemeanor to bring alcoholic beverages onto the grounds of a public school or educational facility. This applies to students, parents, faculties and visitors. A conviction carries a sentence of up to 6 months in county jail.
Call us for help…
For questions about the crime of Penal Code 272 PC contributing to the delinquency of a minor/luring or transporting a minor under 14, or to discuss your case confidentially with one of our California criminal defense attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
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.
For more information on the Nevada crime of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, please see our page on the Nevada crime of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
For more information on the Colorado crime of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, please see our page on the Colorado crime of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Penal Code 272(a) PC – Contributing to delinquency of persons under 18 years; persuading, luring, or transporting minors 12 years of age or younger. (“(a)(1) 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 come within the provisions of Section 300, 601, or 602 of the Welfare and Institutions Code or which act or omission contributes thereto, or any person who, by any act or omission, or by threats, commands, or persuasion, induces or endeavors to induce any person under the age of 18 years or any ward or dependent child of the juvenile court to fail or refuse to conform to a lawful order of the juvenile court, or to do or to perform any act or to follow any course of conduct or to so live as would cause or manifestly tend to cause that person to become or to remain a person within the provisions of Section 300, 601, or 602 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, is guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction thereof shall be punished by a fine not exceeding two thousand five hundred dollars ($2,500), or by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year, or by both fine and imprisonment in a county jail, or may be released on probation for a period not exceeding five years. (2) For purposes of this subdivision, a parent or legal guardian to any person under the age of 18 years shall have the duty to exercise reasonable care, supervision, protection, and control over their minor child.”)
Penal Code 272(b) PC – Contributing to delinquency of persons under 18 years; persuading, luring, or transporting minors 12 years of age or younger. (“(b)(1) An adult stranger who is 21 years of age or older, who knowingly contacts or communicates with a minor who is under 14 years of age, who knew or reasonably should have known that the minor is under 14 years of age, for the purpose of persuading and luring, or transporting, or attempting to persuade and lure, or transport, that minor away from the minor's home or from any location known by the minor's parent, legal guardian, or custodian, to be a place where the minor is located, for any purpose, without the express consent of the minor's parent or legal guardian, and with the intent to avoid the consent of the minor's parent or legal guardian, is guilty of an infraction or a misdemeanor, subject to subdivision (d) of Section 17. (2) This subdivision shall not apply in an emergency situation. (3) As used in this subdivision, the following terms are defined to mean: (A) “Emergency situation” means a situation where the minor is threatened with imminent bodily harm, emotional harm, or psychological harm. (B) “Contact” or “communication” includes, but is not limited to, the use of a telephone or the Internet, as defined in Section 17538 of the Business and Professions Code. (C) “Stranger” means a person of casual acquaintance with whom no substantial relationship exists, or an individual with whom a relationship has been established or promoted for the primary purpose of victimization, as defined in subdivision (e) of Section 6600 of the Welfare and Institutions Code. (D) “Express consent” means oral or written permission that is positive, direct, and unequivocal, requiring no inference or implication to supply its meaning. (4) This section shall not be interpreted to criminalize acts of persons contacting minors within the scope and course of their employment, or status as a volunteer of a recognized civic or charitable organization. (5) This section is intended to protect minors and to help parents and legal guardians exercise reasonable care, supervision, protection, and control over minor children.”)
Penal Code 272(a) PC – Contributing to delinquency of persons under 18 years; persuading, luring, or transporting minors 12 years of age or younger, endnote 1, above.
Penal Code 272(b) PC – Contributing to delinquency of persons under 18 years; persuading, luring, or transporting minors 12 years of age or younger, endnote 2, above.
Penal Code 19 PC – Punishment for misdemeanor; punishment not otherwise prescribed.
Penal Code 19.8 PC – Infractions; classification of offenses; fines; effect of conviction.
Penal Code 272(a)
Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instruction (“CALCRIM”) 2980 –
Penal Code 272(a)
CALCRIM 2980 – Contributing to Delinquency of Minor (Pen. Code, § 272), endnote 9, above.
CALCRIM 2980 (“A minor is a person under 18 years old. [Under the law, a person becomes one year older as soon as the first minute of his or her birthday has begun.]”)
People v. Atchison (1978) 22 Cal.3d 181, 182-83. (“The judge instructed the jury on the contributing-to-delinquency charge as follows (italics added): ‘You are instructed that in a prosecution for contributing to the delinquency of a minor by committing an act causing, tending to cause, or encouraging a person under the age of 18 years to lead an idle, dissolute, lewd, or immoral life, if defendant commits such an act, it is immaterial whether or not he knew the age of the minor.' That instruction was erroneous. (See People v. Hernandez (1964) 61 Cal.2d 529 [39 Cal.Rptr. 361, 393 P.2d 673, 8 A.L.R.3d 1092].) Since the jury may have been misled as to its application to both the Penal Code sections (§ 272 and § 647a) the judgment cannot stand. Because some courts have questioned the scope of the Hernandez ruling, we disapprove the statement in People v. Reznick (1946) 75 Cal.App.2d 832, 837 [171 P.2d 952], that ‘if appellant committed the act it would be immaterial whether or not he knew the age of the minor.'”)
Penal Code 272(a), endnote 1, above.
See also Welfare – Children subject to jurisdiction; legislative intent and declarations; “guardian” defined, endnote 8, above.
See also Welfare & Institutions Code 601 – Minors habitually disobedient or truant; contact with minor in truancy program; notice to appear, endnote 8, above.
Penal Code 272(b), endnote 2, above.
CALCRIM 2982 – Persuading, Luring, or Transporting a Minor Under 14 Years of Age
Penal Code 272(a)
Penal Code 272(b)
Penal Code 19
Penal Code 19.8
Penal Code 290 PC – Sex offender registration act.
Penal Code 290.018 PC – Penalties for violation.
San Jose criminal defense attorney Reve Bautista spent over 20 years as a prosecutor with the Contra Costa District Attorney and the San Francisco District Attorney. As a result, she is well-known at every courthouse in the San Francisco Bay Area. Now, she devotes her energy to helping protect the rights of criminal defendants in cases ranging from contributing to the delinquency of a minor to drug crimes to violent felonies.
People v. Atchison, endnote 15, above.
See People v. Paz (2000) 80 Cal.App.4 293, 300. (“A lewd act, as defined by section 288, subdivision (a) committed with any minor under age 18 is not “entirely innocent” conduct; it would violate at least section 647.6 [annoying or molesting a child under 18] FN14 or section 272 [contributing to the delinquency of a child under 18], both misdemeanors. Although an instruction on the defense of reasonable mistaken belief that the victim was 18 or over has been sanctioned in cases involving charges under section 647.6 orsection 272 ( People v. Atchison (1978) 22 Cal.3d 181, 183, 148 Cal.Rptr. 881, 583 P.2d735), the facts established at the trial in this case would, at most, support a reasonable belief by appellant that H.G. was age 16. Appellant therefore is not in a position akin to that of the “morally innocent” defendants in Hernandez or Vogel—the defendant who believed he was free to marry following a divorce ( Vogel ) or the defendant who thought he was having consensual intercourse with another adult (Hernandez ).”)
Health & Safety Code 11361 HS – Adults employing or selling to minors; minors under or over 14 years of age; punishments.
Business & Professions Code 25658 BPC – Providing alcoholic beverages to persons under 21 years of age; prohibition; criminal punishment; law enforcement decoys; additional punishment
Penal Code 288.2 PC – Harmful matter sent to minor; knowledge; intent; punishment
Penal Code 653b PC - Loitering at a school
Health & Safety Code 12702 HS - Furnishing dangerous fireworks to a minor