Parenting is hard work. Keeping your children safe, helping them stay out of trouble, and building good character and habits require constant effort. But as all parents (and anyone who once was a kid) know, parenting can involve disciplining your kid when they misbehave. Parental discipline can take many forms. It can involve a stern talking-to, taking away phones or other electronic devices that are so important to modern kids, or grounding them. For some parents, discipline may also involve spanking their child. Given Florida’s strong laws against child abuse and domestic violence (which covers violence against any family member, not just spouses or significant others), can you be charged with a crime for spanking your child in Florida?
Florida Law Allows for Spanking – Unless It Results in “Harm.”
Spanking or other discipline of a child that involves a physical act is known as “corporal punishment” or “corporal discipline.” Florida law allows parents or legal guardians to use corporal punishment on their children – to a point. Florida Statutes Section 39.01(2), which defines child abuse, provides that
“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.”
So, while spanking is not in and of itself against the law in Florida, it can be a crime if it causes “harm” to the child as defined in Florida law. What constitutes “harm” goes beyond actual physical harm to include acts likely to cause physical, mental, or emotional harm – even if no actual harm results.
As set forth in In Florida Statutes Section 39.01(32)(a), “harm” to a child’s health or welfare can occur when any person “inflicts or allows to be inflicted upon the child physical, mental, or emotional injury…” Such injury specifically includes:
“Inappropriate or excessively harsh disciplinary action that is likely to result in physical injury, mental injury as defined in this section, or emotional injury.”
Note that even if the parent did not intend to cause the child injury, if the discipline was “likely to result” in injury, that would be beyond the scope of allowable corporal discipline and could expose the parent to criminal charges.
Under Florida law, whether an injury is significant enough to warrant charges will be evaluated in light of a number of factors, including:
the age of the child;
any prior history of injuries to the child;
the location of the injury on the body of the child;
the multiplicity of the injury; and
the type of trauma inflicted.
Corporal discipline may be considered excessive or abusive when it results in any of the following or other similar injuries:
Sprains, dislocations, or cartilage damage.
Bone or skull fractures.
Brain or spinal cord damage.
Intracranial hemorrhage or injury to other internal organs.
Asphyxiation, suffocation, or drowning.
Injury resulting from the use of a deadly weapon.
Burns or scalding.
Cuts, lacerations, punctures, or bites.
Permanent or temporary disfigurement.
Permanent or temporary loss or impairment of a body part or function.
Significant bruises or welts.
As a Florida parent, you have the right to discipline your kids. That discipline can include spanking. But when you go beyond a slap or two across the bottom, you may find yourself facing child abuse charges. If you have further questions about the allowable extent of parental corporate punishment in Florida, contact an experienced Florida criminal defense attorney.
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