What is child abuse vs. child discipline in Florida?

An article from an Orlando paper dealt with a man arrested and charged with child abuse. The man, Johnny Nguyen, was arrested by police when he put his five year old daughter in his car trunk for over one minute. A witness yelled at Mr. Nguyen to stop and called 911. The Defendant claimed he was punishing her daughter for misbehaving in church. Is this child abuse? The answer in Florida is a resounding…maybe?

Florida, like the rest of the union, has certain built in exceptions for parental discipline over children. If a stranger hits a child, he may be arrested for child abuse or battery but a parent is permitted the lawful exercise of corporal punishment. Generally, Florida case law spells out what is considered “lawful” with a few examples below…

In State v. Figarola, 788 So.2d 1109 (Fla. 3d DCA 2001), the defendant was charged with felony child abuse for hitting his son multiple times in the face when the boy would not eat dinner. This caused the boy to have a split lip. The court ruled that the facts did not show “that the parent’s behavior was so excessive or unreasonable and beyond the scope of parental discipline to constitute child abuse.” Id. at 1011.

Another case with a similar outcome is Wilson v. State, 744 So.2d 1237 (Fla. 1st DCA 1999). In Wilson, the defendant was accussed of slapping her six year old son in the face once with an open palm in response to him ignoring her requests to behave. The slap resulted in a red mark on his face but no permanent injuries or medical treatment. Here the Court ruled that these facts constituted not child abuse but permissible discipline.As Clearwater criminal lawyers, and former prosecutors, we have handled hundreds of child abuse cases. Many times, the person being charged is not a parent, rather a school teacher or another authority figure. The State of Florida has walked a thin line to both protect the children while upholding the rights of certain individuals to discipline appropriately.

In State v. Lanier, 979 So.2d 365 (Fla. 4th DCA 2008), the defendant, an elementary school teacher was arrested for child abuse. He was accused of stomping on a four year old’s foot after the child had stomped on another student. In this case the Court determined that the defendant’s actions were permissible and did not amount to an “act that could…’reasonably be expected’ to cause physical injury.” Id. at 368.

Finally, in King v. State, 903 So.2d 954 (Fla. 2d DCA 2005) the defendant, an administrator at a Christian academy, was charged with felony child abuse. The defendant allegedly spanked an eight year old child with a paddle two times, leaving large welts and bruises on her buttocks. This was done because the child was being punished for lying and cheating. The defendant did have a signed permission slip allowing corporal punishment at this school and the Court concluded that the spanking alone did NOT constitute felony child abuse.

What does this mean for Mr. Nguyen? His criminal defense lawyer may try and argue permissible corporal punishment. That may depend on several unkown factors at this time such as the weather, the defendant’s past history and what if any injuries did his daughter receive?

Have you or a loved one been arrested for child abuse? Then call the criminal defense firm of Blake & Dorsten, P.A. now for a free consultation! We are located at 4707 140th ave n, suite 104, Clearwater, FL 33762, across from the Pinellas County jail and minutes away from Tampa and downtown St. Pete.

These former prosecutors handle criminal and personal injury cases throughout St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Tampa, Bradenton, Sarasota, Dade City and New Port Richey. Call now at 727.286.6141 or email them by clicking the contact link.

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