Spanking – Parental Discipline or Child Abuse?

Spanking has a long history of being used as a form of discipline and while still a prevalent form of punishment in several homes throughout the United States, is mistakenly considered by many to be a form of child abuse.

Corporal punishment

Photo by: Wesley Fryer

Spanking is a way in which parents and other authority figures have used to punish children and minors into submission by inflicting physical pain to their body; usually the buttocks. This type of discipline is known as corporal punishment. Corporal punishment was used freely by any adult wishing to discipline a child up until the late 1970’s when spanking by anyone other than parents, such as teachers or school staff, started to receive criticism. 31 states have now banned corporal punishment in schools while the other 19 including Idaho and Arizona are either for it, or not openly against it. Corporal punishment at home is still allowed in all states to some degree.

Parental discipline

Although the number of adults who approve of spanking is on a steady decline nationwide, many parents and guardians still respond to their children’s unruly behavior by giving them a swat on the behind. Spanking is often done with an open hand but can also be done using items such as a belt or a switch, which usually inflicts more severe pain than a hand alone. While not all parents agree on spanking, a large number of adults believe spanking with an object is most certainly unlawful.

Belts and switches

The use of belts, switches and the like in carrying out corporal punishment at home may seem harsh, but they aren’t against the law. In B.T. and S.T. v State of Utah (2017), the parents of four children under the age of 18 were said to have been abused after the parents used belts to spank their children. The courts concurred with the abuse charges, stating “the court cannot envision a scenario where striking or hitting a child of any age, would be appropriate or reasonable discipline.” They also acknowledged that the use of spanking was decreasing in popularity stating that “[w]e’ve evolved beyond it being appropriate to strike a child with an object” and “[t]he simple striking of the child with a belt caused pain and is abuse.”

Justification as defense

Contrary to the court’s original ruling, spanking children with or without a belt is not illegal under Utah law. In fact, Utah Code 76-2-401 states: “Conduct which is justified is a defense to prosecution for any offense based on the conduct. The defense of justification may be claimed: ( . . . ) when the actor’s conduct is reasonable discipline of minors by parents, guardians, teachers, or other persons in loco parentis [unless] the offense charged involved causing serious bodily injury.” The parents the above mentioned case admitted to using a belt to discipline their children, however there were no physical signs of abuse visible from their discipline. The court later reviewed their ruling in which they claimed that hitting a child with an object is abuse and deemed it too vague, giving the examples of how a pillow fight or playing with Nerf swords would fall into the same definition. Utah Code 76-5-109 reiterates that child abuse means “those offenses that cause physical injury to the child” and not for conduct that includes “the use of reasonable and necessary physical restraint or force on a child.”

Ineffective punishment

While spanking may be legal, pediatricians and researchers continue to discourage parents from using it as a form of punishment. Spanking is often done to stop unwanted behavior, such as disobedience and aggression, however current research has shown it to be ineffective, with unwanted behavior escalating instead of diminishing. The American Academy of Pediatrics has also done studies regarding the connection between children who are punished physically and future mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. For those parents who have failed to learn and put into practice a more effective way of disciplining their children, they should ensure that any corporal punishment used in the home does not escalate to the point of child abuse and to consult with an attorney should any charges arise.

Lewdness in Utah

Some individuals can display behavior in public that is obviously inappropriate, but at what point does it constitute lewdness in Utah?

Lewdness

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According to Utah Code 76-9-702, A person is guilty of lewdness if the person under circumstances not amounting to [any sexual assault offense], performs any of the following acts in a public place or under circumstances which the person should know will likely cause affront or alarm to, on, or in the presence of another who is 14 years of age or older:
(a) an act of sexual intercourse or sodomy;
(b) exposes his or her genitals, the female breast below the top of the areola, the buttocks, the anus, or the pubic area;
(c) masturbates; or
(d) any other act of lewdness.”

Lewdness is a class B misdemeanor unless the person is a repeat offender or a convicted sex offender; in that case, the charge would be raised to a third degree felony.

Lewdness or just inappropriate behavior?

Although the section of Utah Code defining lewdness explains specific ways in which a person could face charges, it then adds “any other act of lewdness” which definition could leave the door wide open to interpretation. The Court of Appeals of Utah addressed one officer’s interpretation of this law in the late 90’s when a 16 year old juvenile was charged with lewdness after he “grabbed ahold of his crotch and shook it up and down” while standing in front of a parked vehicle occupied by a woman. An officer observed this deliberate act of offensive behavior that lasted for an uncomfortable “ten to fifteen seconds” and arrested the teen for class B misdemeanor lewdness.

Not of equal magnitude of gravity

The Court of Appeals of Utah reversed the charges on the teen, stating that “while {the 17 year old’s] gestures were certainly immature and offensive, they are not of similar gravity as the conduct expressly proscribed by [section 76-9-702]”. With a law that could risk being interpreted too harshly by some law enforcement, it is vital to seek representation from an experienced defense attorney if charges such as lewdness ever arise.

State Forensic Chemist Causes Thousands of Falsified Drug Convictions

A state forensic chemist out of Massachusetts fabricated positive tests, leading to thousands of falsified drug convictions.

Playing with the freedom of others

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Annie Dookhan, a state forensic chemist who worked for the state of Massachusetts for several years until her arrest in 2013 admitted that over the course of her employment, she had sent back tens of thousands of drug tests with positive results that had either not been tested or had been falsified to product a positive test. She was convicted of tampering with evidence, obstruction of justice, and perjury and served. She has since been released after serving half of her five year sentence while those she helped convict are just now seeing the light of freedom.

Free again

More than 21,000 drug convictions in the state of Massachusetts were dismissed following Dookhan’s arrest and those falsely accused were finally released from prison. Unfortunately, many of those falsely imprisoned had already spent several years behind bars prior to Dookhan’s arrest and after while the prosecution worked feverishly to keep as many imprisoned as possible. Although 21,000 individuals are no longer facing drug charges thanks to the high court of Massachusetts, their lives, including personal relationships and employment, may be forever damaged following being falsely imprisoned.

Not a one-time crime

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Dookhan isn’t the only state appointed forensic chemist to toy around with the freedom of others by altering test results. A few others include:

• Another Massachusetts forensic chemist named Sonja Farak was prosecuted the same year as Dookhan for stealing drugs from the lab she was employed at and using those drugs while working. Thousands of cases were tainted by the trusted chemist who was working while high.

• Joyce Gilchrist was another forensic chemist out of Oklahoma who, like Dookhan, tampered with evidence leading to false positive DNA test results.

• Kamalkant Shan, a lab tech who was released from his job at the State of New Jersey Police Laboratory in 2016 was caught officially recording that drugs had been tested when they hadn’t.

• In 2016 a forensic chemist working for the Utah Department of Public Safety was arrested for sexual crimes against children. Although none of his crimes occurred at his place of employment, it could show him unreliable to produce honest work, leaving many cases to be questioned.

The above names are just a few of several state employed workers who, of their own accord, may have had a hand in placing innocent persons behind bars.

Incentive for state forensic chemists

Photo by: Idaho National Laboratory

Although no one is exactly sure why state forensic chemists such as Dookhan tampered with evidence, the incentive could be nothing more than exceeding their quota. Dookhan was seen as an exceptional employee by returning three times the amount of drug tests than other chemists do on average. While Dookhan wasn’t reward monetarily beyond her annual six-figure income, the fame and acknowledgement from coworkers and supervisors may have been enough to drive her to over-succeed. Another possible reason for falsifying test results could be pure laziness. Performing the same tests, day in and day out may get repetitive and tedious. Perhaps those who chose to “dry-lab”, or produce test results without performing a tests, failed to perceive a major concern to cut corners on testing as the tests appeared insignificant to ensure a guilty verdict. For whatever reason, forensic chemists should be upheld to a higher standard since they are partly responsible for the freedom or imprisonment of others. In order to ensure that, laboratories that are funded by federal or state governments should be properly accredited.

Don’t rely on drug tests

Many of those convicted ended up admitting guilt after having their test results come back positive. When faced with what should be hard evidence, the wisest choice may appear to plead guilty and take a plea deal if possible. This is a decision that is best dealt with while being supported by an experienced criminal defense attorney.