Can I Go to Jail for Spanking My Child?

March 31, 2022 Criminal Defense, Violent Crimes

Everyone has different parenting styles. This is especially true when it comes to disciplinary methods. While some parents see spanking as a fit punishment, others might find it barbarous. But is it illegal in the eyes of the law? Corporal punishment is a complicated legal issue as courts, including the United States Supreme Court, have precedent outlining parents’ fundamental right to child-rearing as they find correct. This can include using physical discipline, but there are legal limits.

Florida Law on Spanking

In Florida, parents may spank their children (or use another method of corporal punishment) unless it results in actual “harm.” Florida law recognizes parents’ right to use reasonable methods of discipline. In both criminal and civil cases involving child abuse, it has been recognized by the courts that the legislature houses parents’ rights to discipline their children so long as those methods are not excessive, and they are reasonable. So, spanking is legal, but not if it results in harm to the child.

So, what is “harm” as contemplated by Florida case law on child abuse? Florida Statute Section 39.01(34)(a) provides the answer. Harm can include physical, mental, or emotional injury, even if no actual harm occurs. Pursuant to the statute, the following acts are not valid or legal methods of discipline:

  • Anything involving a deadly weapon
  • Inflicting cuts, bites, lacerations, punctures, etc.
  • Burning or scalding
  • Damaging the brain or spinal cord
  • Fracturing any bones or the skull
  • Causing intracranial hemorrhaging or injury to the organs
  • Drowning, suffocating, asphyxiation
  • Any kind of disfigurement or discipline that would result in a body part not functioning or being impaired in function
  • Causing significant bruising or welting
  • Dislocating, spraining, or damaging the cartilage of the body

Additionally, the statute lays out conduct that could be seen as legal “harm”:

  • Forcing, encouraging, or allowing the child victim to be sexually exploited, like engaging in prostitution
  • Exposing the child to alcohol or drugs
  • Abandoning the child
  • Neglecting the child
  • Committing, encouraging, or allowing lascivious or lewd acts or sexual battery to be committed against the child

Child Abuse Statute

Florida Statute Section 827.03 outlines the elements the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict a defendant of child abuse:

  • The alleged victim is under 18 years old; and
  • The defendant did one of the following acts:
    • Intentionally inflicted mental or physical injury on the alleged victim;
    • Intentionally committed an act where it would be reasonably foreseeable that mental or physical injury would occur to the victim; or
    • Actively encouraged someone else to commit an act that could or did result in mental or physical injury to the victim.

Furthermore, Florida Statute Section 39.01 provides the definition of abuse:

“Abuse” means any willful act or threatened act that results in any physical, mental, or sexual abuse, injury, or harm that causes or is likely to cause the child’s physical, mental, or emotional health to be significantly impaired. Abuse of a child includes the birth of a new child into a family during the course of an open dependency case when the parent or caregiver has been determined to lack the protective capacity to safely care for the children in the home and has not substantially complied with the case plan towards successful reunification or met the conditions for return of the children into the home. Abuse of a child includes acts or omissions. Corporal discipline of a child by a parent or legal custodian for disciplinary purposes does not in itself constitute abuse when it does not result in harm to the child.

Case Examples

Permissible Parental Discipline

In Wilson v. State, the 1st District held that a mother slapping her 6-year-old son with an open hand on his face in order to discipline him after he lost his temper was permissible. Pursuant to Florida’s parental privilege, the 1st District found 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.”

Impermissible Parental Discipline

In Czapla v. State, the 1st District held that a father punching his son in the head, pushing him into another room and onto the floor, and kicking his son in the side while he lay on the floor was impermissible parental discipline. Though the son was 15 years old and 160 pounds, his weight and size exceeding his fathers did not matter since the court found the punishment was excessive and unlawful.

Tallahassee Criminal Defense Attorney

If you or a loved one has been charged with child abuse, contact a diligent Tallahassee criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Don Pumphrey and the members of the legal team at Pumphrey Law Firm have experience defending Floridians against child abuse charges and will ensure each defense available is analyzed in your favor. Call us today at (850) 681 – 7777 or send an online message to discuss your legal matter during an open and free consultation with an attorney in our legal team.

 Written by Gabi D’Esposito

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