When a spanking is OK

June 13, 2008
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When I acted up as a child, I would be threatened with a spanking. Lucky for me, my parents only delivered on the threat a couple times in my life. A stern look or grounding seemed to do the trick to curb my bad behavior. But for one Indiana mother, Sophia Willis, grounding and taking away privileges didn’t work to control her 11-year-old son’s behavior.





  After discovering he stole some of her clothing and then lied about it, she hit him several times with a belt or an electric cord. Willis was convicted of battery as a Class D felony. Willis appealed her conviction, arguing a parental discipline privilege and that she had tried other disciplinary measures, but nothing else had worked. The case made it all the way to the state Supreme Court, which reversed her conviction, finding the punishment didn’t constitute battery.  When does a parent’s discipline privilege end and abuse begin? According to the Supreme Court, as long as the parent satisfies all of the elements the parental discipline privilege defense beyond a reasonable doubt, using corporal punishment in the form of spanking on a child is legally allowed.  

However, Justice Frank Sullivan brought up an interesting point in the opinion: The courts see many cases of child abuse in which parents claim they were only disciplining their children. Requiring the state to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the force was unreasonable or the parents’ belief was unreasonable will only require the state to spend more effort protecting children from abuse, he wrote.





   In years past, parents would think nothing of spanking their children as a form of discipline. In today’s world, spanking a child has become a gray area for parents and the courts as to when that discipline crosses the line into abuse. This opinion is supposed to address it, but as Justice Sullivan points out, it may just raise more questions as to whether a parent crossed the line in disciplining a child.
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