In Fairfield, California, a 21 year old mother walked into a gas station bathroom with her one year old baby in a stroller and walked out nine minutes later by herself. The child stayed in the bathroom alone until the mother picked him up about an hour later. She told police that she didn’t intend to abandon the child. She just forgot him there because she was high on meth. The question authorities and possibly a jury must ultimately consider is whether this is an excusable incident of mere forgetfulness or an act of child endangerment.
There are two relevant sections of the California Penal Code applicable to this situation. Sections 271 and 273 (a):
California Penal Code Sec. 271 says that a mother of a child under 14 that deserts a child with intent to abandon it can be sentenced up to one year in jail and fined up to $1,000 or both. In this case, the mother claimed that drugs affected her memory and that she was merely forgetful and did not intend to abandon the child. She might not be guilty of a violation of Section 271.
California Penal Code Sec. 273(a), however, does not require an intent to abandon, but only the willfully causing or permitting a child to be place in a dangerous situation. If convicted of this offense, the Fairfield mother could receive up to one year in the county jail or from two to six years in a state prison.
Under Section Sec. 273 (a)(4), the code further requires a minimum of four years probation and drug testing during the probationary period if the violation was committed under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Mere forgetfulness due to drug use does not seem to be a defense to a charge under Section 273(a).
Anyone charged with the crime of child abandonment or child endangerment in the San Jose area has a tough road ahead and should strongly consider the help of a competent and experienced San Jose Criminal Attorney.