Parents have the right to discipline their children in the manner they see fit. The Revised Code of Washington protects this right, stating “the physical discipline of a child is not unlawful when it is reasonable and moderate and is inflicted by a parent, teacher, or guardian for purposes of restraining or correcting the child.” This statutory section is known as the reasonable parental discipline defense and applies when a parent, teacher, or guardian is accused of criminal assault on a child. If you are accused of criminal assault on a child, Jennifer Horwitz Law can help you raise the reasonable discipline defense. With over 35 years of legal experience, Jennifer knows the tactics used by prosecutors and will assert your side of the situation with the goal of absolving you of criminal liability.
What Is Assault of a Child?
Assault of a child occurs when any person over the age of 18 inflicts physical injury to a child under the age of 13. Assault of a child may occur in one of three degrees.
First-degree assault of a child: when a person over the age of 18 intentionally assaults a child under the age of 13 by recklessly inflicting great bodily harm or causing substantial bodily harm through a pattern of causing pain and leaving marks or is similar to torture. First-degree assault of a child is a class A felony punishable by up to life in prison.
Second-degree assault of a child: when a person over the age of 18 intentionally assaults a child under the age of 13 by recklessly inflicting great bodily harm or causing substantial bodily harm, causing pain and leaving marks or is similar to torture. Second-degree assault of a child is a class B felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Third-degree assault of a child: when a person over the age of 18 intentionally causes bodily harm or substantial bodily harm to a child under the age of 13. Third-degree assault of a child is a class C felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison.
How does the Reasonable Parental Discipline Defense Apply?
If you are the parent, teacher, or guardian of a child using physical discipline to restrain or correct the child, the reasonable parental discipline defense likely applies to allegations of criminal assault on a child. The difficultly of the defense is determining what level of physical discipline is considered reasonable. What constitutes reasonable discipline varies by household and culture. Reasonableness also varies based on the situation. While a spanking may be reasonable to an average child, it could be unreasonable to a child with a physical disability or condition that is worsened by the spanking. Application of the defense requires convincing a court and jury that the form of discipline was reasonable under the circumstances.
Although the reasonable parental discipline defense primarily applies to parents, teachers, or guardians, it may also apply to others such as relatives or babysitters if they are given advance permission to use physical discipline by a child’s parent or guardian.
What Behavior is Considered Unreasonable Punishment?
The Revised Code of Washington lists several behaviors that the state legislature considers to be unreasonable as a form of punishment. These behaviors include:
- Throwing, kicking, burning, or cutting a child;
- striking a child with a closed fist;
- shaking a child under age three;
- interfering with a child’s breathing;
- threatening a child with a deadly weapon; or
- doing any other act that is likely to cause and which does cause bodily harm greater than transient pain or minor temporary marks.
This list is considered non-exhaustive, meaning other behaviors may also be unreasonable forms of punishment of a child.
Why Are Allegations of Child Assault so Serious?
The State of Washington takes its duty to protect children seriously. As such, it imposes a duty on certain citizens, such as teachers, police officers, doctors, social workers, and child care providers, to report any evidence of abuse to law enforcement. In many cases, well-intentioned people report disciplinary acts as child abuse. Allegations of child abuse can lead to criminal punishment and loss of parental rights to children. If you are accused of assault on a child, it is crucial to mount a legal defense to any and all claims, even if it is not your own child. Being adjudicated criminally liable can have extremely negative consequences on your life and your entire family.
Consult with a Seattle, Washington Criminal Defense Attorney
Jennifer Horwitz Law has represented clients in domestic relations and criminal cases for over 25 years. Having this experience, Jennifer understands there is never just one side to a story. What looks like child abuse to one person is often a parent’s reasonable use of discipline to restrain or control a child. If you are accused of assault on a child, you need an attorney who understands there is often more to the story and can compellingly present your side. It is not enough to state your side of the events; you must prove your acts were reasonable under the defense of reasonable discipline. That’s why Jennifer listens to and works with all of her clients when mounting a criminal defense. If you are wrongfully accused of assault on a child, reach out to Jennifer Horwitz Law to discuss your case today.