ACCEPTABLE DISCIPLINE OR CRIMINAL ABUSE? WHAT IF ADRIAN PETERSON WAS A NEW ENGLAND PATRIOT?
September 24, 2014
Article by Attorney Amy F. Green (email@example.com or 617-330-7105)
Perhaps the only positive result of the recent issues that have plagued the National Football League is that it has brought two important issues to the national forefront: domestic violence and child abuse/corporal punishment. This article will focus on the latter and the state of the law in Massachusetts.
Physical discipline of children or corporal punishment is a hotly contested topic in our country. Some parents believe it is appropriate and legitimate discipline and others believe it constitutes abuse. Corporal punishment is the intentional infliction of pain that is designed to punish a person for his or her actions and teach that person not to do it again. About fifty (50%) percent of the states in the country, including Massachusetts, have outlawed corporal punishment outside of the home. In the Commonwealth, corporal punishment is prohibited in public schools (G.L. c. 71, §37G), day care (606 CMR 7.05(8) and recreational camps (105 CMR §430.191).
Massachusetts law does not prevent all types of physical discipline but it does set certain limits. There is no statute or case in Massachusetts that specifically recognizes or approves a parental right to use force in disciplining a child. In Commonwealth v. O’Connor, 407 Mass. 663 (1990), the Supreme Judicial Court discussed such a right and noted that as of that time, there was no Massachusetts case or statute that granted parents or others the right to use reasonable force in disciplining a child. That said, there is also no law in Massachusetts that prohibits a parent from spanking a child. In 2007 a bill was placed before the Massachusetts legislature to outlaw spanking. It never passed. The line between permitted corporal punishment and punishment which constitutes criminal abuse is subjective and fact-driven. Courts have relied on the proposition that a parent may use reasonable force to discipline a child but not excessive force.
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