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Is Spanking Child Abuse?

With the current affairs of NFL running back Adrian Peterson and his legal battle regarding possible child abuse charges; office water cooler talk regarding what is and is not child abuse has reached an all time high. While it is not my place to tell people how to discipline their children, it is my place as a practicing attorney at Atticus Legal Group to way in on what is and what isn’t child abuse in Utah. The last thing you want is a child abuse charge in Salt Lake City.

Under Utah law:

Any person who inflicts upon a child serious physical injury or, having the care or custody of such child, causes or permits another to inflict serious physical injury upon a child is guilty of an offense as follows:

  • (a) if done intentionally or knowingly, the offense is a felony of the second degree;
  • (b) if done recklessly, the offense is a felony of the third degree; or
  • (c) if done with criminal negligence, the offense is a class A misdemeanor.

Any person who inflicts upon a child physical injury or, having the care or custody of such child, causes or permits another to inflict physical injury upon a child is guilty of an offense as follows:

  • (a) if done intentionally or knowingly, the offense is a class A misdemeanor;
  • (b) if done recklessly, the offense is a class B misdemeanor; or
  • (c) if done with criminal negligence, the offense is a class C misdemeanor
Utah Code § 76-5-109 (2011)

Utah further defines physical injury as an injury to or condition of a child, which impairs the physical condition of the child, including:

  • (i) a bruise or other contusion of the skin;
  • (ii) a minor laceration or abrasion;
  • (iii) failure to thrive or malnutrition; or
  • (iv) any other condition which imperils the child's health or welfare and which is not a serious physical injury

Id.

And further defines a serious physical injury as: fracture of any bone or bones;

  • (B) intracranial bleeding, swelling or contusion of the brain, whether caused by blows, shaking, or causing the child's head to impact with an object or surface;

  • (C) any burn, including burns inflicted by hot water, or those caused by placing a hot object upon the skin or body of the child;

  • (D) any injury caused by use of a dangerous weapon as defined in Section 76-1-601;

  • (E) any combination of two or more physical injuries inflicted by the same person, either at the same time or on different occasions;

  • (F) any damage to internal organs of the body;

  • (G) any conduct toward a child that results in severe emotional harm, severe developmental delay or intellectual disability, or severe impairment of the child's ability to function;

  • (H) any injury that creates a permanent disfigurement or protracted loss or impairment of the function of a bodily member, limb, or organ;

  • (I) any conduct that causes a child to cease breathing, even if resuscitation is successful following the conduct; or

  • (J) any conduct that results in starvation or failure to thrive or malnutrition that jeopardized the child’s life.

Id.

Having defended child abuse allegations and charges in the past, I can say that in my experience Utah prosecutors and the courts are very protective of children. (And rightfully so). When prosecutors are provided with evidence of bruises, lacerations or other physical proof of harm at the hands of a parent or someone in a parent relationship, the prosecutor is likely to file charges of child abuse.

In answering the original question, is spanking child abuse? The answer is maybe. If you are disciplining your child and use an implement such as a switch, belt, or other item it is likely to leave a mark, and would likely be determined to be child abuse under the law. If you are disciplining your child with an open hand spank, and you leave a mark, bruise, or raise the skin, it is likely to be determined to be child abuse.

I would advise any parent looking for advise on disciplining to turn to your family pediatrician, as they know your child’s medical and mental health history and can offer many alternatives to corporal punishment. I would further advise anyone being charged with child abuse to contact an experienced attorney.

If you have further questions about this yourself or need advice on someone you know, please call Atticus Legal Group at (801) 784-0529 and we will help you the best we can.

Atticus Legal Group is a law firm based in Salt Lake City, Sugar House, and Sandy Utah. Providing services in Family and Divorce law, Personal Injury, Criminal law, Bankruptcy, automobile, and DUI.

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