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June 13, 2008

Indiana Supreme Court Upholds Privilege of Corporal Punishment

Lest recent events lead you to think that all judges have taken leave of their senses, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled earlier in the week 4-1 that "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." It goes on to provide a list of factors for courts to consider in determining just what is "reasonable" in the circumstances. Professor Volokh has details on the factors, which I think are pretty straightforward.

Now, I personally think that if things have escalated to the point that violence is necessary to discipline a child, we are already talking about a serious failure of parenting. I don't mean an open-handed swat to the bottom of a very young child. Once the issue becomes older kids being hit with paddles, belts, or switches or just flat out beat down by a parent, no matter what the kid has done, the parent is as much a failure.

Now, crappy parents should be ridiculed and mocked whenever they show themselves in public. They should never be invited to dinner parties and always be subjected to uncomfortable silences when they show up at the church picnic. There should be special nursing homes for them where the jello has always already melted in the little plastic bowl and the urine smell actually comes from an additive they put in when they wash the sheets. But they should not be subject to felony convictions for reasonably disciplining their children.

What follows is an example of a parent who failed somewhere along the line. There will be no lime jello in her future. But are we supposed to take away the last means of straightening out her child, who had a history of lying and theft?

The February 2006 incident began when the boy took a bag of Willis' clothes to school and tried to give them to a classmate. A teacher caught him and contacted his mother.

Willis, a single mother, testified that grounding her son had failed the last time he was caught stealing. When he denied the new theft, she sent him to her sister's home for two days. She also decided to swat him with a belt.

"I thought about it over the entire weekend and I even tried to talk to him again," Willis said, according to the Supreme Court opinion. "And he continued to lie. . . . I didn't know what else to do."

According to court documents, Willis had her son remove his pants and then hit him five to seven times on the buttocks with an extension cord or belt, resulting in bruising. The boy showed the bruises to a school nurse, who contacted authorities. Willis was arrested and charged with a Class D felony.

A reasonable use of force? The Indiana Supremes think so. Abuse caseworkers in Indiana are wringing their hands even though they shouldn't be. They are required to report even the possibility of abuse. It is up to the prosecutor to make the right decision on whether to seek charges. This holding is directed to them far more than to the school nurse.


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posted by Gabriel Malor at 05:48 PM

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