It is against the law to beat a child, but many people mistakenly believe that all forms of corporal punishment are illegal in California. The line between discipline and abuse can be blurry though, so while spanking is legal, it must fall under what the law defines as “reasonable discipline.” If you have been accused of child abuse after punishing your child, call a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
Can You Spank Your Child in California?
These days, child-rearing experts around the globe debate the merits of corporal punishment. Many psychologists claim that when a parent responds to a child’s problematic behavior with violence, their children learn violence is the right solution to problems.
But the law does not consider whether spanking is right or wrong, and California upholds a parent’s rights to punish their child as they see fit, even when it involves corporal punishment. To help protect children from excessive violence though, the state does set limits regarding what is considered a reasonable response to problematic behaviors.
Spanking Vs. Child Abuse
While everyone will have their own definition of reasonable discipline, the only one that matters under the law is the legal definition of child abuse by California Penal Code 273 (PC), which states that the punishment must be warranted, for disciplinary purposes only, and not be excessive given the specific circumstances. The discipline also must not expose a child to cruel or inhuman punishment or any injuries that result in a traumatic condition, including but not limited to punching, kicking, or choking. In other words, parents have a wide variety of discipline options open to them as long as they do not use excessive force in a given situation.
Unfortunately, the definition of “reasonable discipline” leaves a lot of gray area between whether or not it is illegal to spank your child, so always work with a top child abuse defense attorney if you have been charged with a crime after punishing your child.
The Specifics Matter in These Cases
The details of the case are the most important factors when California prosecutors determine if it is illegal to spank your child in a given situation. In one case that went before the California Circuit Court of Appeals, it was determined that a parent could use a wooden spoon to spank their child, even though it left bruises, because they tried multiple forms of non-violent punishment to curb their daughter’s bad behavior before turning to spanking. Ordinarily though, this behavior would be considered excessive, particularly if the child was particularly young or the conduct was only mildly troublesome.
What to do if You’re Charged with Child Abuse
Child abuse cases should always be taken seriously and require the expertise of a top lawyer. Aside from the risk of losing custody of your child, you could also face misdemeanor or felony charges. Those convicted of misdemeanor child abuse can be sentenced to up to one year in jail and a fine of $6,000, while those convicted of felony charges will face penalties that can include up to six years in state prison. When probation is granted, the minimum probationary period is three years and requires the parent to undergo a mandatory treatment program.
These cases frequently tear families apart when the parent is sent to jail or prison, and their child is left under the care of someone else. After the parent is released, they may still be unable to regain custody.
Speak With a Lawyer, Not the Police
While parents have a lot of leeway in disciplining an unruly juvenile, it’s easy to say something the police may use as evidence of child abuse in your case, especially if your child was left with a visible injury. Never talk to the police without your criminal defense attorney present. For more information on when it is illegal to spank your child in California, please call Peter M. Liss. You can contact his office for a free consultation by calling (760) 643-4050 or (858) 486-3024.