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Parental discipline

By Jeff Terrill

Fort Wayne Reader


Itís against the law in Indiana to touch another person in a rude, angry or insolent way. A parent, for example, who physically disciplines his or her child likely commits the crime of battery. However, Indiana law (IC 35-41-3-1) provides that ďa person is justified in engaging in conduct otherwise prohibited if he has legal authority to do so.Ē A parent charged with battering a child will likely raise a parental discipline defense.

Meet Mike. Mike is divorced with two kids. His son, Junior, is 13 years old. Mike and his son are not real people. Juniorís been on a bit of a teenage roll lately. Over the summer, Mike found a pipe in Juniorís room. Junior denied using any drugs. Juniorís grades are slipping, which resulted in his suspension from the football team. Mike also found inappropriate material on Juniorís cell phone.

Mike grounded Junior a few weeks ago. Junior isnít allowed to use his phone or go out on weekend nights. Juniorís attitude remains poor. He disrespects his father on a regular basis. Mike is frustrated but heís not about to give up on his son.

One night, Junior goes off on his dad. An argument starts. Mike orders him to his room. Junior refuses to go. At one point during the argument, Junior knocks the television to the ground. Mike has seen enough. He takes off his belt, grabs his son, spins him around and begins striking him in the rear several times.

The next day at school, Junior tells a teacher that his butt hurts because his dad whipped him. Junior shows the teacher the bruising and red marks on his butt and lower back. The school contacts the Department of Child Services. From there, a police detective gets assigned to investigate. Mike admits to the detective that he struck Junior multiple times on the butt with a belt. He also explains just how upset and frustrated he is with his sonís behavior.

A prosecuting attorney will decide whether to charge Mike with a crime. A prosecutorís analysis might involve whether the state can prove that either: (1) the force used by Mike was unreasonable or (2) Mike had an unreasonable belief that he needed to use such force to prevent further misconduct from his son.

Several factors exist to help determine the ďreasonablenessĒ of the punishment. More information about those factors and the law applicable to parental discipline can be found in the appellate courtís November 30, 2016 decision in Carter v. State of Indiana.

Mike is focused on getting his son to be a productive, law-abiding young man. Heís trying to be a good parent. Mike is starting to learn how blurred the line is between appropriate discipline and child abuse.


Jeff Terrill is a partner/shareholder with the law firm of Arnold Terrill Anzini, P.C. Mr. Terrill represents clients accused of crimes throughout northeast Indiana. You can contact Mr. Terrill with any questions or comments at his office at 260.420.7777 or via email at jterrill@fortwaynedefense.com. Learn more about his firm at www.fortwaynedefense.com. This article expressed opinions and observations of the author, is not intended as legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader. Please consult a qualified attorney with any legal questions or issues you might have. Thank you

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