Spanking Your Child: Is It Criminal Child Abuse in Oakland, California?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Mar 23, 2016 | 0 Comments

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Whether or not it is either right or effective to discipline your child by spanking him or her is a subject of much controversy. But can spanking your child in Oakland, California get you charged with a crime for violating California's child abuse laws?

It can, if the spanking is found to be “cruel and inhuman,” “not reasonably necessary,” or “excessive” and results in trauma to the child.

California's Child Abuse Law

Spanking is a form of “corporal punishment,” which is any form of physical punishment inflicted by a parent or other adult with authority over a child.

California Penal Code Section 273(d), the state's main child abuse statute, addresses corporal punishment and states in part that:

Any person who willfully inflicts upon a child any cruel or inhuman corporal punishment or an injury resulting in a traumatic condition is guilty of a felony.

As such, corporal punishment can be the basis of an Oakland child abuse charge and conviction under Section 273(d). If you have been charged with child abuse under Section 273(d), the prosecutors will first have to prove that the elements of the crime have been committed, that is, you:

  • willfully inflicted cruel or inhuman physical punishment and/or an injury on your child and
  • the punishment and/or injury you inflicted caused a traumatic physical condition to the child

“Reasonable” Parental Discipline is a Defense to Child Abuse Charges

However, you can assert reasonable parental discipline as a defense to child abuse charges under this section.


It is lawful for a parent reasonably to discipline a child, and in doing so to administer reasonable punishment, including the infliction of reasonable corporal punishment. However, it is unlawful for a parent to inflict unjustifiable punishment upon a child. Corporal punishment is not justified and is therefore unlawful if the punishment was not reasonably necessary, or was excessive, under the circumstances.

CALJIC 4.80 - Parent's Right to Discipline Child.

If you assert the defense of reasonable parental discipline, the prosecutors will then have the burden of proving, in addition to the elements of the crime set forth above, “that the force applied to the child was unlawful, that is, not reasonably necessary or excessive, under the circumstances.” (CALJIC 4.80)

If a jury has a reasonable doubt that unlawful force was applied, they must find a defendant not guilty of child abuse under Section 273(d).

If you have been charged with child abuse in Oakland, California for spanking or otherwise physically disciplining your child, a conviction can result in severe penalties, including jail time. However, as noted, reasonable parental discipline is a defense. Effectively asserting that defense and fighting these serious charges requires a skilled and experienced Oakland, California criminal defense attorney. Please give us a call today so we can discuss your situation and begin working on your defense.

About the Author

Neil Shouse

A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.


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