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When Discipline Crosses the Line into Child Abuse

Posted on in Criminal Defense

Wisconsin criminal defense attorney, Wisconsin child abuse law, Wisconsin defense lawyerRecent issues within the National Football League have brought the problem of domestic violence to the forefront of the national conversation. While many of the NFL's incidents have related to spousal abuse, at least one player has been implicated in a child abuse scandal. The player argues that he was merely physically disciplining his child, and that brings up a good question: When does corporal punishment cross over into child abuse in the eyes of Wisconsin law? Unfortunately, there is no clear legal distinction, meaning much will depend on the facts of the individual case.

What Wisconsin Law Says

Wisconsin law makes it a felony to intentionally or recklessly harm a child. The exact penalties for this depend upon the severity of the harm and the intent of the person who caused the harm, but they can be severe. In fact, intentionally causing great bodily harm is a Class C felony, which can involve a fine of up to $100,000 and a prison sentence of up to 40 years. However, Wisconsin Statute 939.45(5)(b), contains an exception to this rule. The law allows “a person responsible for the child's welfare” to use force for the purpose of “reasonable discipline,” which the law does not define more clearly. The only qualifier that the statute places on the idea of reasonable discipline is that it cannot be intended to cause “great bodily harm,” nor can it create an unreasonable risk of great bodily harm to the child.

What Reasonable Discipline Is

It will be up to the court, usually a jury, to decide what actions qualify as reasonable discipline. The key word in the definition is “reasonable.” This is a piece of legal shorthand that tries to create a standard based on what the ordinary person would think. In this case, it asks at what point the average person would think a line is being crossed. This means that it will often turn on the particular jurors’ views of what reasonableness means. However, that does not mean that there is no guidance on the subject. There are many factors that people often point to when attempting to determine reasonableness. These factors include questions about the child's age, their size, the type of punishment used, and whether the person responsible left marks like bruises or welts. For example, a bare-handed spanking of an older child would look more reasonable than using a switch or a belt on a younger child, though neither may be considered reasonable depending on the jury's perceptions.

If you are facing child abuse charges or some other form of criminal allegations, seek the aid of an experienced Milwaukee criminal defense attorney. Our firm is here to help ensure that your rights are fully represented in court.

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