WALKER v. SUPERIOR COURT


194 Cal. App. 3d 1090
Januray 10, 1986, Decided




LAURIE GROUARD WALKER, Petitioner, v. THE SUPERIOR COURT OF SACRAMENTO COUNTY, Respondent; THE PEOPLE, Real Party in Interest.


Civ. No. 24693.

COURT OF APPEAL OF CALIFORNIA,

THIRD Dist.

194 Cal. App. 3d 1090; 222 Cal. Rptr. 87; 1986 Cal. App.

 
January 10, 1986

NOTICE: NOT CITABLE - SUPERSEDED BY GRANT OF REVIEW

SUBSEQUENT HISTORY:  [**1] 

Review granted March 27, 1986 (See 47 Cal. 3d 112)

PRIOR HISTORY:

This Opinion has been Reprinted for the Original Opinion of January 10, 1986, previously reported at 176 Cal. App. 3d 526 and Reprinted at 185 Cal. App. 3d 266.

COUNSEL: Scofield & Volk, Thomas A. Volk and Robert G. Scofield for Petitioner.

No appearance for Respondent.

John K. Van de Kamp, Attorney General, Shirley A. Nelson and James Ching, Deputy Attorneys General, for Real Party in Interest.



OPINIONBY: EVANS

OPINION:  [*87]  EVANS, J.

Petitioner Laurie Walker (defendant) has been charged in respondeat superior court  [*88]  with involuntary manslaughter (Pen. Code, 192, subd. (b)) n1 and child endangerment ( 273a, subd. (1)). The charges stem from the death of her four-year-old daughter for whom she provided spiritual treatment in lieu of medical care.



n1 Penal Code section 192, subdivision (b), formerly Penal Code section 192, subdivision 2. (Stats. 1983, ch. 937, 1, p.    ; Stats. 1984, ch. 742, 1, p.    .)

Unless otherwise indicated, all further section references are to the Penal Code.

The information alleges defendant acted without malice in the commission of a lawful act which might produce  [**2]  death in an unlawful manner and without due caution and circumspection.

Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the action ( 995) on two grounds: (1) there was no reasonable or probable cause to believe she had committed a crime; and (2) she had no notice that her actions were criminal. The motion was denied, and this writ petition followed. At the behest of the Supreme Court, we issued an alternative writ of prohibition and have considered the merits of defendant's motion to dismiss, and find the facts and applicable legal authority compel the conclusion the motion was properly denied.

Defendant's daughter, Shauntay, fell ill on February 21, 1984, and died on March 9. During her short illness, Shauntay was treated by two accredited practitioners of Christian Science; defendant did not enlist the aid of any medical specialists or practitioners. An autopsy of Shauntay revealed she died of acute purulent meningitis which had been present in her body for at least two to three weeks at the time of her death.

The basis of defendant's motion to dismiss lies in her conception of the intent of section 270. She argues section 270 permits a parent to provide a child with spiritual treatment  [**3]  in lieu of medical care and establishes a complete defense to charges of child endangerment and involuntary manslaughter. Alternatively, she argues she was denied due process of law in that section 270 and other related provisions create a confused state of law with regard to criminal liability for injury to a child resulting from treatment by prayer.

Defendant sets forth three theories by which she contends section 270 absolves her of criminal liability. She asserts: (1) the legislative history of section 270 demonstrates the Legislature's intent to protect parents who apply faith healing from criminal liability; (2) she cannot be charged under the general provision of section 273a when the more specific provision of section 270 is applicable; and (3) section 270 has abolished the only known legal theory of manslaughter prosecution in cases in which a parent's failure to provide medical care was based on religious grounds. We find the contentions to be interrelated and totally lacking in legal support.

Section 270 states in pertinent part: "If a parent of a minor child willfully omits, without lawful excuse, to furnish necessary clothing, food, shelter or medical attendance, or  [**4]  other remedial care for his or her child, he or she is guilty of a misdemeanor . . . . [P] If a parent provides a minor with treatment by spiritual means through prayer alone in accordance with the tenets and practices of a recognized church or religious denomination, by a duly accredited practitioner thereof, such treatment shall constitute 'other remedial care', as used in this section." (Italics added.) The plain language of the statute precludes any inference that a parent who provides spiritual treatment would be insulated against charges of involuntary manslaughter or child endangerment should the lack of medical attendance result in the death of the child. The absence of language to that effect is not surprising when one considers the objectives of section 270 in context--i.e., "to secure support of the child and to protect the public from the burden of supporting a child who has a parent able to support him." ( People v. Sorensen (1968) 68 Cal.2d 280, 287 [66 Cal.Rptr. 7, 437 P.2d 495, 25 A.L.R.3d 1093].) Section 270 simply contains nothing  [*89]  ambiguous to interpret. We have concluded that even a strained liberal construction of that section will not  [**5]  benefit defendant.

Defendant strenuously argues the legislative history of section 270 and the existence of other statutes pertaining to spiritual treatment indicate a legislative intention not to confine the "other remedial care" provisions of section 270 as a defense to prosecutions for violations of section 270 only, but rather it was intended to extend as well to section 192, subdivision (b), and section 273a. The argument is unsupportable.

As enacted in 1872, section 270 provided: "Every parent of any child who willfully omits, without lawful excuse, to perform any duty imposed upon him by law, to furnish necessary food, clothing, shelter, or medical attention for such child, is guilty of a misdemeanor." (Pen. Code [of 1872], 270.) In 1925, the Legislature amended section 270 (Assem. Bill No. 1285 [AB]) by adding the phrase "or other remedial care." (Stats. 1925, ch. 325, 1, p. 544.) In 1976, section 270 was again amended (Assem. Bill No. 3843) to declare that treatment by prayer constitutes "other remedial care." (Stats. 1976, ch. 673, 1, p. 1661.) However, the unambiguous language of that statute compels the conclusion that its scope is confined to the need to  [**6]  provide basic support necessities to children.

Defendant contends the goal of the 1925 legislation was to afford parents who provide their children with treatment by prayer as an alternative to medical care with a complete statutory defense to manslaughter charges based on a failure to provide needed medical care. That assertion was effectively disposed of by People v. Arnold (1967) 66 Cal.2d 438 [58 Cal.Rptr. 115, 426 P.2d 515], in which the Supreme Court cast doubt on the validity of a treatment by prayer defense under section 270 in a manslaughter prosecution. In Arnold, the mother of a 13-year-old girl was convicted of misdemeanor-manslaughter for the death of her daughter due to her failure to seek medical attention for the child. While the conviction was reversed on other grounds, the Supreme Court ruled that the use of spiritual treatment as a means of other remedial care did not relieve a parent of the duty to supply needed medical attendance. It stated, "The phrase 'other remedial care,' . . . does not sanction unorthodox substitutes for 'medical attendance'; it indicates one of the multiple necessities which the parent must provide." ( Id., at p. 452.)  [**7] 

Defendant next argues the 1976 amendment (Assem. Bill No. 3843) was in response to Arnold. We do not find that to be apparent. Rather, the necessity of the modification to section 270, which was sought by proponents of Assembly Bill No. 3843, is not readily apparent; the 1976 amendment merely declared that spiritual healing constituted "other remedial care." The court in Arnold, however, had already determined such to be the case. (66 Cal.2d at pp. 451-452.) That amendment to section 270 did not address the contention that other remedial care could not act as a substitute to standard medical treatment.

Even assuming the Legislature had intended to permit the use of faith healing as a substitute for medical care for purposes of section 270, legislative analysis of that section demonstrates the addition of faith healing as "other remedial care" was not intended as a defense against charges of involuntary manslaughter or child endangerment. The possible impact of Assembly Bill No. 3843 on sections 192, subdivision (b), and 273a was discussed in analyses of both the Assembly Committee on Criminal Justice and the Senate Committee on Judiciary. The Senate Committee Analysis asks  [**8]  somewhat rhetorically, "Might a parent be immune from liability for failure to provide for the health of the child because they choose treatment by prayer rather than common medical treatment, but incur liability if the child suffers any harm?" The answer seems to be found in the Assembly Committee Analysis which stated, "[f]irst, . . . though the parents may not be liable for failing to provide for the health of the child because they choose treatment by prayer rather than common medical treatment,  [*90]  they would be liable if the child suffered any physiological harm. Second, no exception is made under the manslaughter statutes for parental liability should the child die."

That analysis at best demonstrates an awareness by the Legislature of the possible scope to which application of the faith healing language of section 270 might be extended. Had the Legislature meant to provide spiritual treatment as a defense beyond section 270, language to that effect could have easily been included in the 1976 amendment. No amount of "legislation history" can fill a void in statutory language. (See People v. Knowles (1950) 35 Cal.2d 175, 182 [217 P.2d 1].) The fact that the  [**9]  Legislature failed to insert any such language in either section 270, 273a, or 192 reinforces the conclusion that it intended to limit the use of the faith healing exemption to section 270. (See 58 Cal.Jur.3d, Statutes, 50, p. 387.)

In urging that the opposite conclusion should be drawn, defendant relies on a self-serving letter written by a representative of the Christian Science Committee to Assemblyman John T. Knox, the author of Assembly Bill No. 3843, which expounded the Christian Science theory on why the language of section 270 should be sufficient to protect parents who provide the alternative of spiritual treatment from criminal liability. That letter obviously has no bearing on legislative intent and serves no useful purpose in our analysis. (See California Teachers Assn. v. San Diego Community College Dist. (1981) 28 Cal.3d 692, 699-701 [170 Cal.Rptr. 817, 621 P.2d 856].)

Although we find the statutes involved (§§ 270, 192, 273a) to be clear and unambiguous, the contentions tendered by defendant compel our examination of their provisions. We do so in light of the decisional mandate that "In construing a statute 'we begin with the fundamental rule that a court  [**10]  "should ascertain the intent of the Legislature so as to effectuate the purpose of the law.'" [Citations.] 'An equally basic rule of statutory construction is, however, that courts are bound to give effect to statutes according to the usual, ordinary import of the language employed in framing them.' [Citations.] Although a court may properly rely on extrinsic aids, it should first turn to the words of the statute to determine the intent of the Legislature. [Citations.] 'If the words of the statute are clear, the court should not add to or alter them to accomplish a purpose that does not appear on the face of the statute or from its legislative history.' [Citations.]" ( California Teachers Assn. v. San Diego Community College Dist., supra, 28 Cal.3d at p. 698; Friends of Mammoth v. Board of Supervisors (1972) 8 Cal.3d 247, 284 [104 Cal.Rptr. 761, 502 P.2d 1049].)

The will of the Legislature must be determined by the language of the statute; intentions cannot be ascribed to the legislation that would be at odds with the articulated intention. ( People v. Knowles, supra, 35 Cal.2d at p. 182.) Committee reports or statements submitted relative to the legislation  [**11]  may be considered an aid to the interpretation of the language only when they are a reiteration of legislative discussion and/or events leading to the adoption of the statute rather than merely an expression of personal opinion.

An indication of the Legislature's intent to limit the use of the faith healing exemption to section 270 may be drawn from the fact the subject exemption has not been extended to dependency proceedings. Welfare and Institutions Code section 300 provides that a minor may be adjudged a dependent child of the court if not provided with the necessities of life--e.g., medical care. (See Welf. & Inst. Code, 300.5.) Assembly Bill No. 3843 originally proposed the addition of two Welfare and Institutions Code sections, 600.5 and 300.5. n2 (Sen. Amend. to Assem. Bill  [*91]  No. 3843 (1975- 1976 Reg. Sess.) June 11, 1976.) If those sections had been adopted, they would have removed any discretion on the part of the juvenile court to declare a minor a ward or dependent of the court for the sole reason that the parent failed to provide the child with necessary medical treatment and relied only on prayer or faith healing. Prior to the enactment of Assembly Bill No.  [**12]  3843, however, those proposed additions to the Welfare and Institutions Code were deleted. (Sen. Amend. to Assem. Bill No. 3843 (1975- 1976 Reg. Sess.) August 4, 1976.) Accordingly, the failure to provide required medical care to a child, regardless of any ongoing spiritual treatment, is still a viable basis for dependency proceedings by which a juvenile court could order a child to receive proper medical attention. (Welf. & Inst. Code, §§ 300, 300.5, 362.) It appears clear the Legislature did not intend to extend to parents complete discretion in providing their children with prayer treatment as a substitute to necessary medical care. n3



n2 Proposed section 600.5 read: "No minor who, in good faith, is under treatment solely by spiritual means through prayer alone in accordance with the tenets and practices of a recognized church or religious denomination, by a duly accredited practitioner thereof, shall, for that reason alone, be considered a person described by Section 600."

Proposed section 300.5 read: "No minor who, in good faith, is under treatment solely by spiritual means through prayer alone in accordance with the tenets and practices of a recognized church or religious denomination, by a duly accredited practitioner thereof, shall, for that reason alone, be considered a person described by Section 300."  [**13] 

n3 In 1978, section 300.5 of the Welfare and Institutions Code was enacted to require the court to consider the application of prayer treatment in instances in which the minor is alleged to come within the provision of section 300 on the basis that he or she is in need of medical care. (Stats. 1978, ch. 539, 2, p. 1701.) That requirement, however, does not preclude the court from declaring the child a dependent of the court and ordering medical treatment when the use of spiritual treatment alone is deemed a danger to the child.

Defendant also argues the Legislature's intent to insulate her conduct from criminal liability is demonstrated by statutes which recognize faith healing as a defense. We again disagree.

The provisions relied upon by defendant are Business and Professions Code sections 2063, 2731, and 2789, and Health and Safety Code section 1709. Each of these Business and Professions Code sections merely deal with licensing requirements related to the practice of nursing and medicine n4 while the Health and Safety Code provision excludes those who rely on prayer for healing from compliance with the provisions of the code dealing with cancer. n5 The Legislature's  [**14]  intent to provide a defense to spiritual treatment in such limited contexts, however, does not indicate an intent to provide that defense in child endangerment or manslaughter situations.



n4 Business and Professions Code section 2063 states: "Nothing in this chapter [Medicine] shall be construed so as to discriminate against any particular school of medicine or surgery, school or college of podiatric medicine, or any other treatment, nor shall it regulate, prohibit, or apply to any kind of treatment by prayer, nor interfere in any way with the practice of religion."

Business and Professions Code section 2731 states: "This chapter [Nursing] does not prohibit nursing or the care of the sick, with or without compensation or personal profit, when done by the adherents of and in connection with the practice of the religious tenets of any well recognized church or denomination, so long as they do not otherwise engage in the practice of nursing."

Business and Professions Code section 2789 states: "None of the provisions of this chapter [Nursing] shall be applicable to any school or schools conducted by any well recognized church or denomination for the purpose of training the adherents of such church or denomination in the care of the sick in accordance with its religious tenets."  [**15] 

n5 Health and Safety Code section 1709 states: "The failure of any individual, person, firm, association, or other entity representing himself, or itself, as engaged in the diagnosis, treatment, alleviation, or cure of cancer to comply with any of the regulations promulgated under this chapter [Cancer] is a misdemeanor. . . . [P] The provisions of this chapter shall not apply to any person who depends exclusively upon prayer for healing in accordance with the teachings of a bona fide religious sect, denomination, or organization, nor practitioner thereof."

The exclusion from compliance with the licensing and cancer treatment regulatory provisions of those practicing prayer as a healing technique simply demonstrates the legislative belief that those practicing prayer as a healing aid do not necessarily fall in the category of charlatans or those who will prey upon the unfortunate for personal gain.

 [*92]  Defendant also contends that failure to construe section 270 as providing a defense to such charges would be inconsistent with the overall legislative policy respecting the right of parents to pursue alternative treatment by spiritual means. Each of the provisions cited  [**16]  in support of her contention ( 11165; and Welf. & Inst. Code, §§ 16509.1, 18950.5) provides that a child receiving treatment by spiritual means in lieu of medical care shall not for that reason alone be considered a neglected child. n6 The phrase "for that reason alone" suggests, however, the child may be deemed neglected or abused if the omission of medical care would result in serious harm. (Cf. People in Interest of D.L.E. (Colo. 1982) 645 P.2d 271, 274- 275.) Consequently, the cited statutes do not aid defendant or demonstrate a legislative scheme to provide an absolute protection against prosecution for the use of faith healing in lieu of medical treatment. n7 The treatment by prayer provisions of section 270 does not provide a defense against the charged offenses. n8



n6 Section 11165, subdivision (c), states: ". . . (1) 'Severe neglect' means . . . those situations of neglect where any person having the care or custody of a child willfully causes or permits the person or health of the child to be placed in a situation such that his or her person or health is endangered, as proscribed by subdivision (d), including the intentional failure to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, or medical care. [P] (2) 'General neglect' means the negligent failure of a person having the care or custody of a child to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care, or supervision where no physical injury to the child has occurred. [P] For the purposes of this chapter [Control of Crimes and Criminals], a child receiving treatment by spiritual means as provided in Section 16509.1 of the Welfare and Institutions Code or not receiving specified medical treatment for religious reasons, shall not for that reason alone be considered a neglected child. . . . [Italics added.]"

Welfare and Institutions Code section 16509.1 states: "No child who in good faith is under treatment solely by spiritual means through prayer in accordance with the tenets and practices of a recognized church or religious denomination by a duly accredited practitioner thereof shall, for that reason alone, be considered to have been neglected within the purview of this chapter [State Child Welfare Services]. [Italics added.]"

Welfare and Institutions Code section 18950.5 states: "For the purposes of this chapter [Child Abuse Prevention], a child receiving treatment by spiritual means as provided in Section 16508 of the Welfare and Institutions Code shall not for that reason alone be considered an abused or neglected child. [Italics added.]"  [**17] 

n7 Defendant also relies on statutes which recognize spiritual treatment as a form of medical care for purposes of payment for such efforts by state funds and as proof of illness and disability. (Ed. Code, 44978; Unemp. Ins. Code, 2709; Welf. & Inst. Code, §§ 14059, 14132.) As these statutes do not relate to criminal liability, they are inapposite.

n8 Defendant's contention that the prosecution circumvented the Legislature's intent to insulate her conduct from criminal liability fails in light of our discussion.

Defendant also makes a related argument that the charge of child endangerment under section 273a must be dismissed because her conduct fell under the more specific provision of section 270. We reject the assertion.

"A settled rule of statutory construction precludes prosecution under a general statute when a more specific one describes the conduct involved. [Citations.] '[W]here the general statute standing alone would include the same matter as the special act, and thus conflict with it, the special act will be considered as an exception to the general statute whether it was passed before or after such general enactment.' ( In re Williamson (1954)  [**18]  43 Cal.2d 651, 654 [276 P.2d 593].)

"The statutes need not even contain identical elements: 'It is not correct to assume that the rule is inapplicable whenever the general statute contains an element not found within the four corners of the "special" law. Rather, the courts must consider the context in which the statutes are placed. If it appears from the entire context that a violation of the "special" statute will necessarily or commonly result in a violation of the "general" statute, the Williamson [supra] rule may apply even though the elements of the general statute are not mirrored on the face of the special statute.' ( People v. Jenkins (1980) 28 Cal.3d 494, 502  [*93]  [170 Cal.Rptr. 1, 620 P.2d 587].)" ( Finn v. Superior Court (1984) 156 Cal.App.3d 268, 271 [202 Cal.Rptr. 732]; italics in original.)

Section 273a punishes the acts generally classified as child abuse. n9 ( People v. Ewing (1977) 72 Cal.App.3d 714, 717 [140 Cal.Rptr. 249].) Subdivision (1) of that section, under which defendant was charged, states: "Any person who, under circumstances or conditions likely to produce great bodily harm or death, willfully causes or permits  [**19]  any child to suffer, or inflicts thereon unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering, or having the care or custody of any child, willfully causes or permits the person or health of such child to be injured, or willfully causes or permits such child to be placed in such situation that its person or health is endangered, is punishable by imprisonment . . . ."



n9 Defendant herself has acknowledged "the [L]egislature never intended [section] 273a to operate as an alternative means of punishing conduct proscribed by [section] 270. Rather, the two sections [are] mutually exclusive, addressing totally different aspects of the problem of crimes against children."

Accordingly, that provision proscribes a wide range of conduct including child beating, child endangerment, and child neglect. ( People v. Benway (1985) 164 Cal.App.3d 505, 512 [210 Cal.Rptr. 530].) The failure to provide medical attendance is but one method by which a child may be placed in danger under section 273a, subdivision (1). That provision is not violated unless the action or inaction of the charged party occurs under conditions likely to produce great bodily harm or death to the child. Since  [**20]  the failure to provide the necessities mandated by section 270 can frequently occur under conditions which do not involve child endangerment or neglect, a violation of section 270 will not necessarily or commonly result in a violation of section 273a, subdivision (1). Here, section 270 does not adequately describe the conduct involved; prosecution under section 273a, subdivision (1), does and is appropriate. n10



n10 Subdivision (2) of section 273a also proscribes conduct which would cause or permit a child to be injured or placed in such situation that its person or health may be endangered. Again, minor or trivial ailments treated by prayer under section 270 do not fall within the scope of section 273a.

Defendant next argues there is no basis upon which to find her guilty of involuntary manslaughter. We disagree.

Section 192, subdivision (b), defines involuntary manslaughter as the unlawful killing of a human being "in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to felony; or in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, or without due caution and circumspection." The Supreme Court in People v. Penny (1955) 44 Cal.2d 861  [**21]  [285 P.2d 926], held the phrase "without due caution and circumspection" to be equivalent to "criminal negligence." ( Id., at p. 879.)

Defendant contends section 270 prevents the prosecution of her conduct under the misdemeanor-manslaughter rule because her actions fall under the faith healing provisions of that statute. However, whether or not her conduct constitutes a violation of section 270 is irrelevant since the prosecution did not charge defendant under that section and does not rely on it as a basis for the manslaughter charge. n11



n11 Defendant is charged with involuntary manslaughter "in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death in an unlawful manner and without due caution and circumspection."

She also argues section 270 supplied the only basis upon which her conduct could be presented for involuntary manslaughter--i.e., misdemeanor- manslaughter. She asserts that prior to the enactment of legislation imposing a statutory duty on parents to provide medical care for their children, common law recognized that an honest belief in faith healing did not amount to culpable negligence in a manslaughter prosecution.

In California, however, it has  [**22]  been long recognized that the failure to exercise  [*94]  due care in the treatment of another, where duty to furnish such care exists, is sufficient to constitute that form of manslaughter which results from an act of omission. ( People v. Chavez (1947) 77 Cal.App.2d 621, 628 [176 P.2d 92]; 17 Cal.Jur.3d, Criminal Law, 266, pp. 414-415.) In Chavez, supra, the court, in upholding a conviction of involuntary manslaughter, found the defendant's failure to properly care for her infant immediately after its birth constituted criminal negligence. ( Id., at p. 628; see People v. Penny, supra, 44 Cal.2d at pp. 869-874.) The duty of a parent to provide needed medical care for a child is not only inherent, but one established by statute. (§§ 270, 273a.) Accordingly, failure to provide needed medical care, regardless of the parent's religious beliefs, may constitute the lack of due caution basis by which the parent may be convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

By the 1976 amendment to section 270, the Legislature did not change the holding of Arnold, supra, 66 Cal.2d at page 452, that "other remedial care" had to be provided in addition to clothing, food, shelter,  [**23]  and medical attendance. The 1976 amendment further defined "remedial care" to include "treatment by spiritual means through prayer alone" (Stats. 1976, ch. 673, 1, p. 1661), but the further definition of "other remedial care" cannot reasonably be construed to change Arnold's rule establishing the relationship between medical attendance and "other remedial care." The 1976 amendment simply says that a parent's duty to furnish other remedial care is satisfied if he or she provides treatment by spiritual means through prayer. The 1976 amendment provides no exemption from any other legal duty.

Finally, defendant argues that even if section 270 does not insulate her actions from criminal liability under sections 192, subdivision (b), and 273a, subdivision (1), due process requires the dismissal of those charges. Her position is that there was no adequate notice her conduct was criminal in light of section 270 and other sections relating to faith healing. Our previous discussion of the clear meaning of the statute compels rejection of her contention.

As we have previously pointed out, sections 192 and 273a are unambiguous. The language of those sections clearly set forth conduct  [**24]  constituting involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment without any reference to spiritual treatment. Our analysis has also revealed there is no connection between those statutes and section 270, and that other statutes containing reference to faith healing are inappropriate and have no significance in this proceeding.

Defendant nevertheless asserts there is an apparent ambiguity between section 270 and sections 192 and 273a. She asserts that attorneys who had examined the interrelationship of the provisions believed that section 270 could possibly provide a complete defense for parents who apply spiritual treatment for their children. In support of her argument, she again refers to the self-serving correspondence from the Christian Science Committee on Publication, as well as the analyses of the Assembly and Senate on Assembly Bill No. 3843.

We reiterate that any interpretation of section 270 emanating from the Christian Science Committee is obviously self-serving and of no legal significance. Secondly, contrary to defendant's contention, the comments contained in the Assembly Committee Analysis are indicative of a legislative understanding that section 270, as it presently  [**25]  stands, does not provide a complete defense to manslaughter in circumstances such as those in which faith healing by prayer was used rather than orthodox medical attendance. Consequently, the comments of the Senate and Assembly Committee Analyses, if used as an aid, are interpreted as indicating further amendments are required in order to provide such a defense.

Defendant also extends the argument that because section 270 fails to indicate at what point permitted spiritual treatment as an alternative to medical care transforms  [*95]  into criminal conduct, she was not afforded the due process right of notice as to when her conduct became unlawful. She relies on some legislative history surrounding title 21, section 852 of the Oklahoma Statutes as support for her position.

Prior to 1983, the Oklahoma statute read: "Every parent of any child who willfully omits, without lawful excuse, to perform any duty imposed upon the parent by law to furnish necessary food, clothing, shelter or medical attendance for such child is guilty of a misdemeanor; . . . Nothing in this section shall be construed to mean a child is endangered for the sole reason the parent or guardian, in good faith,  [**26]  selects and depends upon spiritual means alone through prayer, in accordance with the tenets and practice of a recognized church or religious denomination, for the treatment or cure of disease or remedial care of such child; provided, that the laws, rules, and regulations relating to communicable diseases and sanitary matters are not violated. However, nothing contained herein shall prevent a court from immediately assuming custody of a child and ordering whatever action may be necessary, including medical treatment, to protect his health or welfare." (Okla. Laws 1975, ch. 67, 1.)

In State v. Lockhart (Okla.App. 1983) 664 P.2d 1059, an Oklahoma appellate court upheld the acquittal of a manslaughter charge based on a violation of section 852. Thereafter, section 852 of the Oklahoma Statutes was amended as follows: "[A]s used in this section, the duty to furnish medical attention shall mean that the parent or legal custodian of a child must furnish medical treatment in such manner and on such occasions as an ordinarily prudent person, solicitous for the welfare of a child, would provide; such parent or legal custodian is not criminally liable for failure to furnish medical  [**27]  attendance for every minor or trivial complaint with which the child may be afflicted. . . . Nothing in this section shall be construed to mean a child is endangered for the sole reason the parent or guardian, in good faith, selects and depends upon spiritual means alone through prayer, in accordance with the tenets and practice of a recognized church or religious denomination, for the treatment or cure of disease or remedial care of such child; provided, that medical care shall be provided where permanent physical damage could result to such child; . . ." (Okla. Laws 1983, ch. 44, 1; italics added.)

Defendant argues absent specific language as that contained in the amended version of section 852 of the Oklahoma Statutes, it follows section 270 would be interpreted in the manner of Lockhart. Such interpretation, however, cannot benefit defendant. Lockhart simply held that a parent, who chose to rely on treatment by prayer for a child in lieu of medical care, could not be found guilty of the misdemeanor offense of failure to provide for necessities. The acquittal of the first degree manslaughter charge was justified solely because the underlying misdemeanor could not  [**28]  be proved. n12 Here, defendant's manslaughter charge is not predicated on a violation of section 270.



n12 Title 21, section 711 of the Oklahoma Statutes states: "Homicide is manslaughter in the first degree in the following cases: [P] 1. When perpetrated without a design to effect death by a person while engaged in the commission of a misdemeanor. [P] 2. When perpetrated without a design to effect death, and in a heat of passion, but in a cruel and unusual manner, or by means of a dangerous weapon; unless it is committed under such circumstances as constitute excusable or justifiable homicide. [P] 3. When perpetrated unnecessarily either while resisting an attempt by the person killed to commit a crime, or after such attempt shall have failed."

Furthermore, unlike section 270, the Oklahoma provision contains language with reference to child endangerment and welfare proceedings. Such language indicates that the Oklahoma prayer treatment defense was not limited to a requirement to provide necessities. Accordingly, the 1983 amendment to the Oklahoma statute was necessary to prevent the interpretation that the use of faith healing was a complete defense to criminal liability  [**29]  resulting from the death of a child by illness.

 [*96]  The point at which parents may incur liability for substituting prayer treatment for medical care for their child is clear--when the lack of medical attention places the child in a situation endangering its person or health. (§§ 192, subd. (b); 273a.) The exact point at which that occurs, however, can only be determined by a jury. Defendant has not been denied the right to due process.

DISPOSITION

The peremptory writ of prohibition is denied. The alternative writ having served its purpose is discharged.

Regan, Acting P. J., concurred.



CONCURBY: SIMS

CONCUR: SIMS, J.

I concur in the result reached by the majority and in most aspects of the majority opinion. However, in my view, Penal Code section 270 n1 contains no exemption from the parental duty to supply medical attention for a child. Our Supreme Court has ruled that the duty to supply "other remedial care," imposed by section 270, is in addition to, not a substitute for, the statute's duty to supply medical attention. Consequently, I do not agree with the majority's suggestion that section 270 may contain a "faith healing exemption." (Majority opn. at pp. 534-535.)

 [**30] 

n1 All further statutory references are to the Penal Code.

In People v. Arnold (1967) 66 Cal.2d 438 [58 Cal.Rptr. 115, 426 P.2d 515], the court held that, "The phrase 'other remedial care,' [in section 270] . . . does not sanction unorthodox substitutes for 'medical attendance'; it indicates one of the multiple necessities which the parent must provide." ( Id., at p. 452.) This court is bound by the definitive interpretation given the statute by our Supreme Court. (See Auto Equity Sales, Inc. v. Superior Court (1962) 57 Cal.2d 450, 455 [20 Cal.Rptr. 321, 369 P.2d 937].)

The majority correctly conclude that by its 1976 amendment to section 270, the Legislature did not change the holding of Arnold that "other remedial care" had to be provided in addition to clothing, food, shelter and medical attendance. The 1976 amendment further defined "remedial care" to include "treatment by spiritual means through prayer alone . . . ." (Stats. 1976, ch. 673, 1, p. 1662.) However, the further definition of "other remedial care" cannot reasonably be construed to change Arnold's rule establishing the relationship between medical attendance and "other  [**31]  remedial care"; i.e., that remedial care must be provided in addition to medical attendance. No amount of "legislative history" can fill a void in statutory language. (See People v. Knowles (1950) 35 Cal.2d 175, 182 [217 P.2d 1].) The 1976 amendment simply says that a parent's duty to furnish "other remedial care" is satisfied if he or she provides treatment by spiritual means through prayer. The 1976 amendment provides no exemption from the duty to provide medical attendance set forth in section 270.






Prepared: April 27, 2003 - 5:02:29 PM
Edited and Updated, April 27, 2003


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