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Can You Be Charged With A Crime For Spanking Your Child In Ohio?

The short answer is yes, however, Ohio law does not specifically prohibit a parent from using physical punishment such as spanking.

Corporal punishment is not always a crime in Ohio. Corporal punishment includes all physical punishment including spanking. The problem is that Ohio law does not draw a clear line for when physical parental discipline becomes a crime. Ohio law leaves room for interpretation which gives prosecutors broad discretion on when to charge a parent. The sole question in most cases is whether the discipline is “proper and reasonable” under the circumstances. 

“Spare the rod, spoil the child” can lead to prosecution and jail

Many of us have heard the expression “spare the rod, spoil the child.” The saying means that if a child is not properly punished after a misdeed, it is unlikely the child will learn from the mistake.

Spanking a child is not necessarily a crime but can be considered criminal under Ohio’s domestic violence statute. Ohio law says that causing any harm to a household or family member is the crime of domestic violence (Ohio Revised Code R.C. 2919.25(A)). Oddly, nothing in the domestic violence statute prohibits a parent from properly disciplining a child. Recently, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that proper and reasonable parental discipline is an affirmative defense to domestic violence (State v. Faggs, Slip Opinion No. 2020-Ohio-523). This means that if a person accused of domestic violence shows that the physical discipline was “proper and reasonable,” he will be acquitted of the charge of domestic violence.

What is “proper and reasonable” physical parental discipline?

The large majority of parents want what is best for their children, yet we each have a different approach to discipline. Most of us agree that discipline should be tailored to the individual child and to the circumstances surrounding the need for punishment. Some parents believe physical punishment should never occur and utilize curfews, removal of privileges, or timeouts to discipline children. Other parents subscribe to the old school method of discipline which includes physical punishment like spanking. Opinion varies vastly among parents as to what is “proper and reasonable” for discipline. Even parents who agree that physical punishment is warranted on occasion do not always agree on the severity or the frequency of the punishment.

Case example – Great Wolf Lodge swimming pool

Because there is no bright-line rule for when physical punishment is a crime, a parent is at risk for being charged if he or she uses any physical punishment to discipline a child. Recently, Charles M. Rittgers had a jury trial in Mason Municipal Court defending a father who was accused and charged with domestic violence after onlookers called the police after they witnessed him discipline his ten-year-old child at Great Wolf Lodge pool. The case was taken to a jury trial and the father was forced to justify why the physical punishment was proper and reasonable under the circumstances. Thankfully, the jury agreed and he was found not guilty of all charges.

What is proper and reasonable to one parent or person may not be deemed proper and reasonable to another. Only a competent and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney can help. 

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