Crime or Punishment: The Parental Corporal Punishment Defense--Reasonable and Necessary, or Excused Abuse?
Kandice K. Johnson   |   1998 U. Ill. L. Rev.

The parental right to use physical force to discipline and restrain children is a privilege firmly rooted in the American system of jurisprudence. This privilege is often asserted as a defense when parents are charged with a crime of aggression against their child. While the privilege to use disciplinary force is universally recognized as a defense in criminal actions, it is equally acknowledged that child abuse is a pervasive reality of American life. This article postulates that current laws, addressing assertion of the parental privilege defense in criminal actions, either fail to provide adequate guidance to parents or to sufficiently protect children from abuse.

Professor Johnson proposes a justification statute that would place parental conduct that results in physical injury to the child outside of the parental defense umbrella. The goal of the statute is to preserve the parental privilege to use disciplinary force while simultaneously providing a clear statement that the physical integrity of children is sacrosanct.

* Professor Johnson is the Director of Clinical Programs, Director of the Criminal Prosecution Clinic and Associate Clinical Professor of Law at the University of Missouri School of Law at Columbia, Missouri.