I SPANKED MY CHILD, AM I GOING TO JAIL?

The answer is, most likely not, however, it depends on a variety of factors. This article explains what can and cannot get you arrested for battery when punishing your child by physical means. Please note that I in no way condone even touching your child, however, it is important to be educated on this topic and learn what the State of Florida finds legal and illegal. I must say, it is quite interesting.

I recently won a case via a Motion to Dismiss which I filed on behalf of my client who was accused of Simple Battery against his 15 year old daughter, in violation of Florida Statute §784.03. My client, a prominent professional, had a lot on the line to lose if convicted of battery. Therefore, as always, I thoroughly researched the facts of his case and, in doing so, learned that what the police stated he did, was in fact not a crime within the state of Florida.

In the state of Florida , a parent may assert, as an affirmative defense to child abuse or battery, his or her parental right to administer “reasonable” or “nonexcessive” corporal punishment on a child. Florida upholds a well-established principle that a parent, or one acting in loco parentis, does not commit a crime by inflicting corporal punishment on a child subject to his authority, if he remains within the legal limits of the exercise of that authority.

But what is “reasonable” or “non-excessive” corporal discipline? Florida Statute § 39.01(30)(a)4 provides that inappropriate or excessively harsh disciplinary action is action that is likely to result in physical injury, mental injury or emotional injury. In determining whether injury has occurred, the following factors must be considered in evaluating any physical, mental, or emotional injury to a child: the age of the child; any prior history of injuries to the child; the location of the injury on the body of the child; the multiplicity of the injury; and the type of trauma inflicted. Such injury includes, but is not limited to:

1. Willful acts that produce the following specific injuries: a. Sprains, dislocations, or cartilage damage.
b. Bone or skull fractures.
c. Brain or spinal cord damage.

d. Intracranial hemorrhage or injury to other internal organs. e. Asphyxiation, suffocation, or drowning.
f. Injury resulting from the use of a deadly weapon.
g. Burns or scalding.

h. Cuts, lacerations, punctures, or bites.
i. Permanent or temporary disfigurement.
j. Permanent or temporary loss or impairment of a body part or function.

See, Fla. St. Sect. 39.01(30)(a)4

Florida courts have differentiated what is non-permissible corporal punishment vs. permissible corporal punishment.

Non-Permissible Corporal Punishment:

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The First District Court of Appeals in Czapla v. State, 957 So.2d 676 (Fla. 1st DCA, 2007), held that the Defendant exceeded reasonable corporal punishment. In that case, the Defendant was charged following an incident with his teenage son. According to the son’s testimony, he slept late one weekend morning, a day on which he had agreed to rake a neighbor’s yard. Czapla awoke the son, but the son explained it was too late to get started on the yard work because he was required to be some-where else by mid-morning. Later that morning, Czapla confronted the son about not doing the yard work as agreed and, an argument ensued. Then, according to the son, Czapla punched the son in the head, pushed him into an adjoining room and onto the floor, and, while the son was on the floor, kicked the son in the side. Later that day, the son met with his mother, who is estranged from Czapla. His mother contacted the police. At the time of the incident, the son was 15 years old and weighed at least 160 pounds. His weight and size, even if exceeding the father’s did not matter. The court found what Czapla did to be excessive and unlawful.

Permissible Corporal Punishment
An example of permissible corporal punishment, a battery in fact, is in Wilson v. State, 744 So.2d 1237 (Fla. 1st DCA 1999). In Wilson, a mother slapped her six year old son with an open hand across the face in an attempt to discipline him after a temper tantrum. Based on Florida’s parental privilege, the court held that “the undisputed facts in this case, taken in the light most favorable to the state, establish a privileged battery in the course of discipline”.
Likewise in State v Figarola, 788 So.2d 1109 (Fla. 3rd DCA, 2001), the Third DCA affirmed that the Defendant’s behavior constituted reasonable parental discipline. In this case, Figarola struck his son Carlos twice when Carlos refused to eat the dinner which Figarola had prepared and served. As a result, Carlos’ lip was split. Figarola then forced Carlos to eat the dinner, causing him to choke. Figarola was charged with felony child abuse. He subsequently moved to dismiss the charge against him. Figarola alleged that the undisputed facts did not set forth a prima facie case of guilt pursuant to Wilson v. State, 744 So.2d 1237 (Fla. 1st DCA 1999), where a mother slapped her child across the face, leaving a bruise and redness. The State conceded that the trial court was required to grant Figarola’s motion under Wilson and the case was dismissed.

In my client’s case, he allegedly pushed his daughter who fell on to the bed, as per the officer’s affidavits, yet completely disputed by my client. If in fact true, as stated in my motion to dismiss, the act of pushing his daughter on the bed clearly fell within what Florida considers permissible corporal punishment. Upon reviewing my motion, at the hearing, the State conceded my argument and dismissed the case against my client.


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