Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



In late 1988 as part of a comprehensive effort to combat violent street gang activity,' the California legislature passed an amendment to section 272 of California's Penal Code, commonly known as the Parental Responsibility Law. Section 272 originally stated only that every person who commits any act or fails to perform any duty that causes or tends to cause a minor to do a prohibited act is guilty of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a misdemeanor under the California Penal Code, and subject to a maximum fine of twenty-five hundred dollars, one year in jail, or both. When the California legislature amended section 272, it imposed an additional affirmative duty on parents and legal guardians "to exercise reasonable care, supervision, protection, and control over their minor child[ren]."' In essence, California's legislative package makes parents liable for failing to prevent their minor children from engaging in criminal activity.

Although the State has not prosecuted anyone under the new laws, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California (ACLU) has filed a taxpayers' lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Parental Responsibility Law." The complaint alleges that the amendment is vague, overbroad, and an infringement on family privacy. The ACLU has requested that the court enjoin enforcement of the Parental Responsibility Law and declare it unconstitutional.