ILNews

Justices will consider corporal punishment case

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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The Indiana Supreme Court will take up the issue of a mother's authority to discipline her child by applying corporal punishment, paving the way for justices to analyze the legal line between parental control and child battery.

Justices granted transfer Wednesday in Sophia Willis v. State of Indiana, No. 49A02-06110-CR-982, which the Indiana Court of Appeals had decided May 17. Appellate judges affirmed the Marion Superior Court judgment finding sufficient evidence to convict Willis, mother of an 11-year-old, of misdemeanor child battery for spanking her son with what's described as either a belt or extension cord.

A reason detailed at trial for the February 2006 incident was that her son took a bag of women's clothing to give to a classmate at school, though a fifth-grade teacher confiscated it and notified the mother. At home, Willis used an extension cord or belt to spank him seven times - to the point of causing bruises or pain. A few days later, he reported still being sore, asked his teacher if "being whipped with an extension cord was child abuse," and requested to see the school nurse who then notified child protective services.

Willis was charged within a week for felony child battery and was convicted after a bench trial in August. Commissioner Danielle Gaughan reduced her conviction to a Class A misdemeanor and sentenced her to 365 days in jail with 357 days suspended to probation. Willis appealed on grounds that insufficient evidence existed to support her conviction.

"We sympathize with Willis's argument that she is a single parent who is doing the best that she can, be we cannot condone her choice to whip her child with an extension cord to the point of causing him pain," the court wrote, noting that it doesn't reweigh evidence and gives deference to the trial court.

In its ruling, the Court of Appeals panel - Chief Judge John Baker and Judges Ezra Friedlander and Terry Crone - noted that Indiana Code section 35-41-3-1 provides a parent has the right to employ reasonable corporal punishment to discipline a child, but there are limits to that right. Appellate judges echoed a past finding that there's "precious little Indiana caselaw providing guidance as to what constitutes proper and reasonable parental discipline of children, and there are no bright-line rules." That sentiment was mentioned in Mitchell v. State, 813 N.E.2d 427 (Ind. Ct. App. 2004), which held that dropping a 4-year-old to the floor and kicking him was child battery.
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  1. Your article is a good intro the recent amendments to Fed.R.Civ.P. For a much longer - though not necessarily better -- summary, counsel might want to read THE CHIEF UMPIRE IS CHANGING THE STRIKE ZONE, which I co-authored and which was just published in the January issue of THE VERDICT (the monthly publication of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association).

  2. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  3. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  4. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  5. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

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