Over the past several years, I've seen an increase in child-abuse charges filed against parents arising from the punishment that, even as recent as ten years ago, would not have caught the eye of a prosecutor. For all of you new parents out there, this is something that certainly needs to be on your radar.
Corporal Punishment is Permitted in Virginia - But Only to a Certain Extent
To be clear, Virginia allows for corporal punishment. That means that spanking and physical punishment is permitted. However, it is limited to “reasonable” physical punishment in "due moderation." What exactly reasonable and due moderation means is determined by case-by-case circumstances and can mean different things depending upon the community in which you live.
Harbough Provides Guidance on When Spanking is Criminal
A seminal case in Virginia regarding child spanking is Harbough v. Comm, 209 Va. 695 (1969). In Harbough, the victim was a five-year-old child who was observed by school staff to have difficulty walking, and upon examination, his buttocks were badly bruised with blood marks and seepage. He also had purple marks and welts on his legs and ended up being admitted to the hospital. The Court in Harbough ultimately found that the child's injuries were due to the defendant punishing the child for what he felt was inappropriate behavior. As you might image, the defendant was convicted of assault.
In convicting the defendant, the Harbough Court made clear that the Court will take into consideration factors such as bruising/markings left on the child, what steps of punishment or taken before the physical punishment, the circumstances surrounding the actual punishment, such as how many spanks were employed, and other circumstances. However, this is simply no bright line rule to determine what exactly is going too far.
Given that, it is important to be aware that certain punishment can be interpreted as a child abuse. And as the years proceed, it seems at least in my practice that this threshold is becoming lower and lower.
Should you have any questions about Virginia child-abuse law, or other general questions about our criminal justice system, call us at (703)584-7277 to speak with a Virginia defense attorney.