Parental Discipline Defense in Massachusetts

by Joseph Simons on Jan. 08, 2017


Summary: Parental discipline is a defense to assault and battery and other charges in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, there is a defense to assault and battery charges known as the “Parental Discipline Defense.” It is recognized by courts in certain circumstances. The defense can be used by biological parents, stepparents, and guardians.

How Does the Parental Discipline Defense Work?

For starters, the alleged victim must be under 18 years old. If the defense is properly raised, the judge will instruct the jury that “a parent may use reasonable force against a child under his care if it is reasonable and reasonably related to a legitimate purpose.” The judge will also explain that the jury can consider the child’s age, the child’s physical and mental condition, the injuries caused (if any) by the discipline, the nature of the child’s alleged misconduct, and the child’s ability to understand or appreciate the correction.

If the parental discipline defense is properly presented at trial, the burden shifts to the prosecution to prove one of the following:

  • That the force used was unreasonable;
  • That the force used was not reasonably related to the purpose of safeguarding or promoting the welfare of the child; or
  • That the force used caused or created a substantial risk of causing physical harm, gross degradation, or severe menal distress.

Parental Discipline Defense for Stepparents

The defense bears the initial burden to prove that he or she is entitled to be protected by the defense. Factors that may be considered include:

  • The nature and length of the relationship between the defendant and the biological parent;
  • The extend to which a biological parent remains actively involved in the child’s rearing;
  • Whether the child resides with the defendant;
  • The extent and nature of the defendant’s role in rearing the child;
  • Whether the defendant contributes financially to the household;
  • Whether the other parent and/or the child view the defendant as a co-parent; and
  • Whether there is a formal or implicit understanding between the defendant and a parent as to the defendant’s role in rearing the child.

If you are being accused of child abuse, assault and battery, or a related Massachusetts charge, contact me at (617) 657-4464 today.

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