Dad who beat son, 6, loses parental privilege defense appeal

An Allen County father who repeatedly struck his 6-year-old son in the face causing serious bruising after he accused the child of stealing his cigarettes had no viable claim of parental privilege shielding him from battery convictions.

The Indiana Court of Appeals on Thursday affirmed an Allen Superior jury’s conviction of Darwin L.G. Hanks on charges of Level 5 felony battery and Level 6 felony domestic battery. He was sentenced to an aggregate of four years in prison.

Hanks was charged after teachers noticed the different injuries on his son’s face on different days in late November and early December 2017, and authorities intervened after the child said his father had struck him.

At his trial, Hanks asserted his parental privilege to discipline his child, which the state may overcome by proving either that 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 reasonableness test for parental force formulated in Willis v. State, 888 N.E.2d 177 (Ind. 2008) considers factors such as the child’s age, sex and mental condition; the nature of the child’s offense and apparent motive; the influence of the child’s example on other children; whether the force is reasonably necessary to compel obedience to a proper command, and; whether it is disproportionate to the offense, unnecessarily degrading or likely to cause serious or permanent harm.

“A review of the relevant factors listed above supports the jury’s decision to reject Hanks’s parental privilege defense,” Judge Terry Crone wrote for the panel in Darwin L.G. Hanks v. State of Indiana, 18A-CR-2240. “Hanks struck his six-year-old son D.H. in the face on at least two occasions with sufficient force to leave marks that lasted for a number of days. The first injury covered almost one entire side of D.H.’s face, and, the day after that incident, his face still felt ‘like fire.’

“… Hanks inflicted this punishment because he believed that D.H. had a problem with stealing his parents’ things and lying about it. While Hanks asserts that he was simply using progressive forms of discipline to try to correct a behavior problem, the evidence ultimately supports a conclusion that Hanks used an unreasonable and disproportionate amount of force when disciplining six-year-old D.H. for his misbehavior,” Crone continued. “…The State presented sufficient evidence to refute the defense of parental privilege.”

Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik concurred in result without a separate opinion.

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