Peterson case raises issue of criminal child abuse vs. discipline

In many criminal cases, the ability to negotiate the charges for less serious penalties can be the key to decreasing or even avoiding prison time. In the high-profile case involving professional football star Adrian Peterson, a plea agreement avoided a possible sentence of two years in prison.

Peterson was arrested and then indicted in September for alleged child abuse involving his 4-year-old son. According to records produced in court, the boy suffered cuts and bruising to his lower torso. Peterson defended his actions by saying that being whipped with a switch is how he was disciplined as a child.

Although Peterson’s plea of “no contest” does not mean that he admitted to being guilty of a misdemeanor, the sentencing guidelines treat it as an admission of guilt. The plea reduced the charge against Peterson from a felony child abuse charge to reckless assault.

Under that charge, the sentence includes a $4,000 fine, parenting classes and community service of 80 hours. He is essentially on probation for the offense. He will also be allowed to resume contact with the child.

While some have been critical of the reduction in charges against Peterson, alleging that he received special treatment because of his celebrity status, the district attorney who handled the case has denied those charges. Prosecutors had requested to have another judge handle the case, but their motion was denied.

The case raised the profile of the issue of corporal punishment. While it is still legal in every state, the Peterson case demonstrates that there may be a fine line between what is considered punishment and what is considered abuse under the definition of “corporal punishment.”

Many parents believe that how they punish their children is a private matter in their household. But it is important to remember that the law determines the limits of that punishment and that some professionals, such as teachers and doctors, are required to report any suspicion of abuse.

If you are contacted by legal authorities, in Kentucky or Tennessee with questions about discipline you have used with your child, it is advisable to contact an attorney as quickly as possible. Not only can you face criminal charges, but you could also face a damaged reputation, and even lose the ability to have contact with your child until the matter is resolved.

Source: AOL, “Vikings’ Peterson avoids jail in plea agreement,” Juan A. Lozano, Nov. 4, 2014

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