A Florida state appeals court upheld the criminal conviction of a mother for "maliciously disciplining" her child. The mother, who beat her 7-year old son with a belt on his back, arms, and shoulders, was convicted under a Florida law banning the "malicious punishment" of children.
The court acknowledged that "a parent does not commit a crime by inflicting corporal punishment on her child if she remains within the legal limits of the exercise of that authority." However, when the corporal punishment is "malicious," a crime occurs. The court concluded that corporal punishment oversteps the bounds of permissible discipline if it is motivated by malice, rather than educational purposes; if it is inflicted upon frivolous pretenses; if it is excessive, cruel, or merciless; or if it results in great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement.
The court observed that the Swedish parliament banned all corporal punishment of children (including punishment inflicted by parents) in 1979 by a vote of 259 to 9. While this extreme action has not been taken in the United States, the court observed that "cases like this should stand as a warning to those, parents and others alike, who quickly turn to corporal punishment as a solution to their child discipline problems. It is apparent that there is a serious risk of `going too far' every time physical punishment is administered. The consequences now may include not only harm to the child but criminal prosecution as well." Herbert v. State, 526 So.2d 709 (Fla. App. 4th Dist. 1988)