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Appellate court addresses parental privilege in 2 opinions

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In two cases involving the parental privilege defense, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a teacher who “flicked” a special education student’s tongue and against a father hit his daughter numerous times with a belt.

In Trinda Barocas v. State of Indiana, No. 49A02-1007-CR-732, special education teacher Trinda Barocas appealed her conviction of Class B misdemeanor for “flicking” the tongue of a student with Down syndrome. Barocas had twice told the student to put her tongue back in her mouth and when she didn’t, Barocas flicked her tongue, causing the student to wail and cry.

Barocas argued she wasn’t guilty because teachers have qualified immunity for reasonably necessary disciplinary acts. Parents have legal authority to engage in reasonable discipline of their children, even if that conduct would otherwise be battery, and that justification has been extended to teachers, within reason, wrote Judge Melissa May. The judges looked to Willis v. State, 888 N.E.2d 177, 180-81 (Ind. 2008), which discussed the parental privilege defense and noted for the state to sustain a conviction of battery where a claim of parental privilege has been asserted, the state must prove either the force the parent used was unreasonable or that the parent’s belief that such force was necessary to control the child and prevent misconduct was unreasonable.

The appellate court found Barocas’ force against the student was not cruel or excessive, and it doesn’t rise to the level of “unreasonable force.” The judges were unable to find any decision in which a parent or teacher’s conviction of battery was upheld based on the use of force as minimal as that used by Barocas, wrote Judge May. The state also didn’t prove the second element of the test adopted in Willis – that the teacher was unreasonable to believe a physical prompt was necessary to control the student’s behavior of sticking out her tongue. They reversed Barocas’ conviction.

But in Jeffrey L. Hunter v. State of Indiana, No. 49A02-1011-CR-1224, a different Court of Appeals panel ruled against father Jeffrey Hunter who argued his Class A misdemeanor battery conviction should be reversed because the evidence didn’t rebut his parental privilege defense.

Hunter had ongoing disciplinary issues with his 14-year-old daughter B.H. and after finding out she had someone forge a signature on a permission slip to go to Indiana Beach, he ordered B.H. to strip down to her underwear and come to him in the living room. When she wouldn’t tell him who paid for the trip, he hit her around 20 times with a belt, leaving injuries that were still present months later. The “degrading and long-lasting physical effects” of her injuries differentiate this case from Willis and the appellate court concluded he used unreasonable force. They upheld his battery conviction.

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