Corporal Punishment in the News

By Dave Mueller, Criminal Defense Attorney

When Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was charged with child abuse in the state of Texas for the alleged physical abuse of his son, many questions were raised in the media as to what the legal limits for “corporal punishment” are.

In Pennsylvania, the defense of corporal punishment allows parents or other guardians in charge of the welfare of a child to use a reasonable amount of physical force to discipline the child. As such, the mere use of physical force in discipline does not necessarily rise to the level of abuse or criminal conduct. However, the law requires that:

(i) the force is used for the purpose of safeguarding or promoting the welfare of the minor, including the preventing or punishment of his misconduct; and

(ii) the force used is not designed to cause or known to create a substantial risk of causing death, serious bodily injury, disfigurement, extreme pain or mental distress or gross degradation.

This definition clearly leaves open a lot of room for interpretation. As such, it is frequently the case that any method of physical punishment that comes to the attention of “mandatory reporters” such as caregivers, teachers, doctors, etc., may lead to a report that triggers an investigation by law enforcement and/or county Children and Youth Services.

This is where it is absolutely vital that anyone who becomes a target of such an investigation speaks to an attorney immediately. There is not a perfectly clear line between allowable corporal punishment and abuse, and what you may think is easily explainable as corporal punishment may be met with an entirely different interpretation by those investigating. This is why is it crucial to speak with an attorney before making statements to anyone, for any reason, regarding allegations of abuse. In addition to potential criminal penalties, the outcome of these investigations can affect employment, custody, volunteer opportunities, and many other important areas of your life.

If you have a question or concern about how the laws of corporal punishment in Pennsylvania may impact your parenting or custodial rights, please call me today at (800) 615-0115.

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