The social attitude toward child discipline has shifted over the last several decades so that many disciplinary actions previously viewed as ordinary are now understood to be harming some of the most vulnerable people in society, and the severity of the penalties and sentencing associated with criminal child abuse charges reflect that. However, the array of punishment varies widely and ultimately depends on the specific actions taken.
One topic that remains hotly debated is corporal punishment. Is it effective? Is it ethical?
When does it become excessive? These are all questions that have been raised for decades, and the current turn of the tide is to discourage hitting as a punishment altogether.
While corporal punishment is legal under Illinois law, the courts seem to be redefining the line between effective and excessive according to the new social norm.
If you are a parent currently facing child abuse charges for what you believe to be an acceptable level of corporal punishment, an experienced Chicago criminal attorney will be able to help you best organize the facts of your case in defending your right to privacy and how you raise your child(ren).
Corporal Punishment Is Legal in Illinois – Excessive Corporal Punishment Is Not
In this state, the Fourth District Appellate Court clearly stated in 1994 that a parent does in fact have the right to administer corporal punishment, as it is derived from the protection of a parent’s right to privacy in determining how to care for, control, and discipline his or her own child.
However, the term “discipline” in the same statement is interpreted by the courts to extend only as far as “reasonable punishment,” and the courts’ stance is that the State has a legitimate interest in the welfare of juveniles, including protecting them from unreasonable parental discipline.
The question for Illinois residents then, becomes: “When does a parent who utilizes corporal punishment exceed what is considered reasonable in a court of law?”
The Shift in Social Attitude Is Affecting Illinois Court Rulings
It used to be that the extent of visible physical injury effected a case more than anything else. Today, however, things are changing. Due to advances in the field of psychology and research on the psychological effects of hitting a child and how corporal punishment is administered, the courts now consider other factors with equal, if not more, weight.
Both the psychological effects of the discipline administered and the circumstances surrounding the discipline (whether the parent was calmly attempting to discipline or lashing out in anger, for example) are evaluated.
Additionally, the degree of physical injury inflicted upon a child in a present case is not exclusively considered in determining the reasonableness of parental conduct. The courts also think critically, now, on what the injury may say about the likelihood of future punishment, which may be more injurious.
We currently see an alignment with the new social norm of anti-corporal punishment through an increasing number of Illinois child abuse case rulings which reflect an unwillingness to regard parental conduct as reasonable – particularly when parents use boards, belts, cords, ropes, or other weapons to inflict corporal punishment.
When Corporal Punishment Means Criminal Charges
Illinois’ Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act defines corporal punishment as the use of physical punishment with the intent of inflicting pain, including spanking, hitting, pinching, slapping, or other means. However, the same acts could be construed as criminal when interpreted against a number of other Illinois law.
For instance, any situation in which one person makes actual physical contact with another with intent to injure, that person can be charged with simple battery – a crime that carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. Corporal punishment is specifically defined as making physical contact in order to inflict pain. It is easy to see how subjective interpretation of a situation can complicate things.
Spank your child in public and someone believes your discipline to be excessive, and suddenly you’re facing aggravated battery charges according to how an aggravated battery “offense based on location of conduct” is outlined (720 ILCS 12-3.05(c)).
Worse, if your child is under 13 and you can’t provide legal (and acceptable) justification to the court for causing the “bodily harm,” you’re looking at some extremely serious penalties.
While we recognize the science – child abuse does inflict severe emotional damage in children, which can have lifelong consequences – societal hypervigilance as we navigate new territory on the matter can cause misinterpretations, and we see this happen every day. Do not allow yourself to become a casualty of our changing norms.
About the Author:
Andrew M. Weisberg is a former felony prosecutor who now serves as a defense attorney in the greater Chicago area. He has extensive experience in handling all types of criminal cases, from sex offenses and domestic violence to retail theft-related crimes, murder, and drug crimes.