From Spock to Dr. Phil to the ‘Tiger Mom’, there are thousands of books on what the authors believe are the best parenting techniques. There are almost as many opinions on child rearing as there are parents, and for many the topic of corporal punishment is a central feature.
Sometimes spanking is portrayed as an important part of child discipline. But others view it as a major no-no with a multitude of psychological repercussions. 1 What is largely left out of the conversation is whether spanking a child could get you into trouble with the law.
In California, spanking is legal, but must fall within a range of what is considered “reasonable discipline.” 2 If you are a parent who uses spanking as a form of punishment, it is important for you to know when you have crossed the line between spanking and child abuse.
How California Defines Child Abuse
California Penal Code 273(d) defines child abuse as the infliction of any “cruel or inhuman corporal punishment or an injury resulting in a traumatic condition.” 3 Examples of this kind of abuse include kicking, pushing, punching and choking.
If you are a parent, it is probably obvious that any of these actions crosses the line from reasonable punishment to abuse. So where does spanking fall?
The Fine Line Between Spanking and Child Abuse (PC 273)
Generally speaking, if you spank your child it is not child abuse. However, there are caveats which you should understand. First, disciplining a child by spanking must fall into what is considered “reasonable discipline.” This is determined by two factors:
- If the punishment was warranted; and
- If the punishment is considered excessive under the circumstances.
Spanking your child with an object other than your hand is also legal, but it must not be excessive in relation to the circumstances which led to the punishment. 4
In the past, courts have looked to specific circumstances leading to spanking in order to determine whether the punishment was reasonable. A California Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled under the specific facts of the case before it that the act of spanking with a wooden spoon, even though it left bruises, was not a form of child abuse. In that instance, the parents had used non-violent forms of punishment to try to improve their daughter’s behavior, but to no avail. 5 It was only then that they turned to spanking as a form of discipline.
What You Can Expect If You Are Convicted of Violating California’s Child Abuse Laws
A violation of California Penal Code 273(d) is a wobbler offense, meaning you could be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony. This will depend on the circumstances of the case as well as your prior criminal history.
If convicted of misdemeanor child abuse, you face up to 364 days in county jail, a fine of up to $6,000, or both jail time and a fine. If you are convicted of felony child abuse, you face two, four or six years in state prison, a fine of up to $6,000, or both prison and a fine. 6
Along with these penalties, a child abuse conviction carries a negative stigma that can make re-entering society difficult once you are released from jail or prison. This is why it is vital that you speak to an experienced attorney if you are facing charges of child abuse.
Call the Experienced Child Abuse Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich Today
If you have been charged with child abuse, you should immediately speak to a Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney. At Wallin & Klarich, our skilled child abuse attorneys have been fighting for over 30 years to help our clients achieve the best possible outcomes in their cases. Let us help you now.
With offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, an experienced Wallin & Klarich attorney can help you no matter where you live or work.
Call us at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free telephone consultation. We will be there when you call.
2. [CALCRIM 2015, Volume 1, Series 800, Section C(i), Subsection 822 ]↩
4. [CALCRIM 2015, Volume 1, Series 800, Section C(i), Subsection 822]↩