Parental Discipline Defense – MA Criminal Defense Attorneys

Parental Discipline Defense – MA Criminal Defense Attorneys

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Is spanking legal in Massachusetts?

To start things off, this is not a parenting advice blog. We’re not going to tell you it’s ok – or not ok – to physically discipline your kids. Also, don’t take this blog post as legal advice. However, if you are charged with Assault and Battery on a Family or Household Member or related crime, call us today at (781) 797-0555 for a free & confidential phone consultation.

In Massachusetts, there is a defense to assault and battery charges known as the “Parental Discipline Defense.” It is recognized by courts in certain circumstances. The defense can be used by biological parents, stepparents, and guardians.

How to Use the Parental Discipline Defense

For starters, the alleged victim must be under 18 years old. If the defense is properly raised, the judge will instruct the jury that “a parent may use reasonable force against a child under his care if it is reasonable and reasonably related to a legitimate purpose.” The judge will also explain that the jury can consider the child’s age, the child’s physical and mental condition, the injuries caused (if any) by the discipline, the nature of the child’s alleged misconduct, and the child’s ability to understand or appreciate the correction.

If the parental discipline defense is properly presented at trial, the burden shifts to the prosecution to prove on of the following:
1. That the force used was unreasonable;
2. That the force used was not reasonably related to the purpose of safeguarding or promoting the welfare of the child; or
3. That the force used caused or created a substantial risk of causing physical harm, gross degradation, or severe mental distress.

Parental Discipline Defense for Stepparents

The defendant bears the initial burden to prove that he or she is entitled to be protected by the defense. Factors that may be considered include:
1. The nature and length of the relationship between the defendant and the biological parent;
2. The extend to which a biological parent remains actively involved in the child’s rearing;
3. Whether the child resides with the defendant;
4. The extent and nature of the defendant’s role in rearing the child;
5. Whether the defendant contributes financially to the household;
6. Whether the other parent and/or the child view the defendant as a co-parent; and
7. Whether there is a formal or implicit understanding between the defendant and a parent as to the defendant’s role in rearing the child.

If you are being accused of child abuse, assault and battery, or a related Massachusetts charge, contact us to speak with an experienced Boston Criminal Defense Attorney today.


Commonwealth v. Dorvil

Massachusetts Jury Instructions

Trial Court Blog

The Boston Globe

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