Bruises from Spanking Still ‘Reasonable Punishment’

A Santa Clara mom, who spanked her 12-year-old daughter with a wooden spoon hard enough to leave bruises, had a right to impose reasonable discipline on her child, a California appeals court said last week.

After social services took action to register the mother, Veronica Gonzales, as an offender with California’s child abuse index, Gonzales appealed, saying that the hearing officer had impermissibly refused to allow her daughter to testify that she had not been abused. The hearing officer had forbidden the testimony on the belief that this would “traumatize” the girl.

According to her parents, the girl had reportedly stopped doing her homework, was earning low test scores, and had shown an increasing interest in “gang culture.” They said they never spanked her out of anger, but in hopes that she would take school and her personal welfare seriously. The daughter admitted that these claims were all true, and that lesser forms of discipline, such as temporary loss of her cell phone, had been ineffective.

Gonzales testified that she had used a wooden spoon because a condition in her hand would have made the spanking painful for Gonzales otherwise. She delivered five or six blows: one for each of the daughter’s transgressions and excuses.

The daughter’s friend told a school employee about the spanking, and the daughter later claimed that the school had forced her to remove her pants to reveal her buttocks for a photo. She also claimed that a social worker who visited the family home weeks later falsely reported that the daughter had expressed fear of her parents.

In reversing the lower court’s judgment, and ordering that court to either hold a new hearing or tell the Department of Justice that the abuse report had been “unfounded,” Justice Conrad L. Rushing stated: “It has long been held in prosecutions for these and similar crimes against children that, ‘a parent has a right to reasonably discipline his or her child and may administer reasonable punishment without being criminally liable.’”

Rushing added that the court was not deciding whether spanking is a fair form of punishment, only whether California parents have a right to “reasonably discipline” their children.

A recording in California’s child abuse index as a probable child abuser affects fundamental rights, requiring the superior court to exercise independent judgment on the question of whether the evidence that a child abuse report is “substantiated.”

Rushing was joined by Justices Eugene M. Premo and Franklin D. Elia.

Case: Gonzales v. Santa Clara County, No. CV204141.


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