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Court News: Parental Discipline/Corporal Punishment

Court News: Parental Discipline/Corporal Punishment


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Published by Todd Corne
An article discussing Indiana’s judicial recognition of parents’ right to use reasonable corporal discipline with respect to their children.
An article discussing Indiana’s judicial recognition of parents’ right to use reasonable corporal discipline with respect to their children.

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Categories:Types, Research, Law
Published by: Todd Corne on Oct 30, 2008
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved


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Court News: Parents' Privilege to Discipline Their Children Do parents in Indiana have a right to physically discipline their children

? Some states have enacted laws which specifically address this question. While Indiana has a law (I.C. 35-41-3-1) which establishes a defense for a person charged with a crime to argue that they had legal authority to engage in conduct that is otherwise prohibited, there is no law in Indiana which specifically tells parents whether they may use physical discipline in the course of raising their children. This year our Courts have provided guidance. Indiana Supreme Court The Indiana Supreme Court was first to address the issue in a case involving a single mother who was contacted by her eleven year old son's fifth grade teacher about the fact that she had observed the son giving a bag of women's clothes to another student. The teacher felt this was odd and called the mother simply to inform her about it. During a meeting with the teacher the mother identified the clothes in the bag as her own. The mother, experiencing ongoing disciplinary problems with her son, considered her options over the next few days and decided to first simply ask her son what had occurred. The son denied he had any involvement. His mother warned him he would be punished if he didn't tell the truth, however her son continued to deny his involvement and instead placed blamed for the incident on others. The mother told her son to lower his pants and raise his hands to the top of his bunk bed. She then swatted him with either a belt (according to mother) or an extension cord (according to son) 5 to 7 times. During the course of the punishment the son tried to avoid some of the blows and ended up being also struck on his arms and thighs which left bruises. The next day at school the son asked to see the school nurse. He showed his bruises to the nurse and said his mother had given him a "whooping" because he lied about taking some clothes. The nurse contacted child protective services who thereafter contacted police. Mother was arrested and charged with Battery. The trial court found her guilty and sentenced her to 365 days in jail with 357 of those days suspended to probation. The dilemma in these type of cases is caused by the need to determine what constitutes legitimate parental discipline as opposed to child abuse. Our Supreme Court began its discussion by looking at several United States Supreme Court cases which recognize that parents have a fundamental interest in maintaining a family relationship with their children, including the right to direct their upbringing and education as well as the use of moderate or reasonable physical force to control their behavior- a principle long recognized in the law. After considering various ways other jurisdictions and authorities have dealt with the balancing of interests between allowing legitimate discipline and prohibiting parental abuse, the Court formally recognized the defense of parental privilege and adopted the following statement as its position on a parent's use of corporal punishment: “A parent is privileged to apply such reasonable force or to impose such reasonable confinement upon his [or her] child as he [or she] reasonably believes to be necessary for its proper control, training, or education.”

To determine what punishment is reasonable in any particular case, the Court set out the following factors as a guide: In determining whether force or confinement is reasonable for the control, training, or education of a child, the following factors are to be considered: (a) whether the actor is a parent; (b) the age, sex, and physical and mental condition of the child; (c) the nature of his offense and his apparent motive; (d) the influence of his example upon other children of the same family or group; (e) whether the force or confinement is reasonably necessary and appropriate to compel obedience to a proper command; (f) whether it is disproportionate to the offense, unnecessarily degrading, or likely to cause serious or permanent harm. The Court noted that this list of factors is not an exhaustive one, and that others may appropriately be considered as long as there is a balancing of each against the other in determing what force is reasonable under the circumstances. As to the case of the mother and her 11 year old son, the Court determined that under the factors set out above the mother's actions were reasonable under the circumstances and set her conviction aside. Next time: the Indiana Court of Appeals The case discussed is Willis vs. State of Indiana, No. 49S02-0707-CR-295 (Ind. S. Ct. June 10, 2008). Disclaimer: 1.) The information presented here is not legal advice, nor is it intended to be. Obtain private counsel of your choice for legal advice. Do not rely on this article to make decisions about what you choose to do, or not do, in any situation with which you are faced. Be aware that significant personal liability, both civil and criminal, may attach to persons who make physical contact with another person under circumstances deemed to not be authorized by law. 2.) This article is intended merely to be informative concerning the material discussed. Caselaw is subject to be overruled, modified, or otherwise vacated, and is also subject to varying interpretations by courts of law. All statutory provisions, as well, are subject to amendment and recodification, as well as varying interpretations by courts of law. Todd Corne, Prosecuting Attorney http://warrickcountyprosecutor.blogspot.com © 2008 Todd Corne

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