Appeals Court Draws Line Between Spanking and Child Abuse (CA Penal Code 273)

When a Santa Clara woman, found out that her 12-year-old daughter had been frequently lying to her and wasn’t doing her schoolwork, she took a wooden spatula and spanked her.  Little did she know that she would be arrested under California laws against child abuse (CA Penal Code 273).   But a Sixth District Court of Appeals judge has recently determined that there is a fine line between a parent’s right to discipline their child and child abuse.

The controversy over where discipline ends and child abuse begins is decades old.  From at least the early 1980s, public viewpoints on the subject have run toward the extreme, spanking is child abuse.  However, it seems that now, social workers and representatives of Child Protective Services will have to take into consideration the intent of the parent when deciding whether or not abuse has occurred, or whether it is simply discipline.

In this case, bruises were left on the child; (CA PC 273) states that slapping a child hard enough to leave bruises or using a belt to administer discipline to a child are both instances of abuse, not discipline.  The law is a currently a ‘wobbler,’ meaning that it may be charged as a felony or as a misdemeanor, carrying with it  a maximum sentence of one year for a misdemeanor count and up to 6 years for a felony count. This incident has sparked controversy anew over the rights of parents versus the rights of the child.  The Judge insisted that the circumstances of each case must be taken into account; in this matter, whether or not she intended to harm her child or to spank her.