Corporal Punishment and Child Abuse in North Carolina

Some of the most difficult situations in the North Carolina Justice System are crimes that involve child victims, this is made even more complicated when the person charged with the crime is that child’s parent. One of the most common charges under these facts are child abuse charges brought after the parent uses corporal, or physical, punishment.

Here we will cover some of the frequently asked questions of corporal punishment and child abuse in North Carolina Courts.

1. Is Child Abuse a Misdemeanor or a Felony? Both. In North Carolina depending on the facts and circumstances, you can be charged with either a felony or a misdemeanor. Felony child abuse is punished as a class E felony, which means that regardless of your prior record, the judge may sentence you to prison time. Misdemeanor child abuse is punishable as a Class A1 misdemeanor and similar to the felony, a conviction can carry the risk of jail time, regardless of your prior record.

2. What is the difference between Felony and Misdemeanor child abuse? The main difference between the felony and misdemeanor charges is the requirement of serious mental or physical injury. If the actions undertaken by the defendant cause serious mental or physical injury, then the felony could be charged, if not, then the misdemeanor would be more appropriate.

Misdemeanor Child Abuse charges require the state to prove:

  1. that the parent or person providing care or supervision to a child less than 16 years of age,
  2. inflicted physical injury or allowed physical injury to be inflicted upon,
  3. the child,
  4. other than by accident.

Felony Child Abuse Charges require the state to prove:

  1. that the parent or person providing care or supervision to a child less than 16 years of age,
  2. intentionally inflicted on or to the child, or intentionally assaulted the child,
  3. resulting in serious mental or physical injury.

3. What is corporal punishment? Corporal punishment is the use of physical actions to discipline someone. In the area of parenting, the most common example of corporal punishment is spanking. In more broad terms, corporal punishment is the use of one’s person or an object to inflict physical action onto a child. Unlike many states, North Carolina does not have a complete restriction on the use of objects to inflict corporal punishment. The North Carolina courts have said that if you choose to use an object for the purpose corporal punishment it cannot be cruel, inappropriate, or done simply out of ill will with no desire to actually punish or discipline.

4. If corporal punishment is physically disciplining the child, doesn’t that mean that it is illegal? North Carolina law leaves the method of parenting up to the individual parents, and allows for a parent to choose to use corporal punishment. The courts have said that corporal punishment is allowed so long as it only inflicts “moderate” punishment, or punishment that does not cause chronic injury. Therefore, so long as the corporal punishment does not cause injury that is long-lasting or permanent, is not done solely out of ill-will, or does not use cruel or inappropriate methods or objects, it is legal in North Carolina.

5. If I am charged with child abuse will I only have to deal with the court system? While there are no guarantees in the North Carolina Justice System, this is almost certainly a no. Even if your lawyer manages to get the cases dismissed in the justice system, you will likely still need to interact with the Department of Social Services, or DSS. The DSS investigation is completely separate from the criminal investigation and even if you are found not guilty, DSS may still require you to complete certain education, treatment, or other training, as well as comply with what is commonly called a “safety plan” which may prohibit the use of corporal punishment in the future.

Child abuse charges are very serious and can result in very serious repercussions not only personally but professionally as well. If you or someone you know is facing these kinds of charges, contact the Criminal Defense Team at Jetton and Meredith today.