The Associated Press, June 10, 1998
Dad gets one year in jail for spanking--Appeals Court upholds conviction
By Robert Imrie, AP Writer
WAUSAU, Wis. (AP) -- An appeals court upheld the child-abuse conviction of a stepfather who was accused of spanking a 4-year-old girl so hard that it left hand imprints seen a day later.
The 3rd District Court of Appeals rejected arguments from Mark A. Peterson, 37, that an Outagamie County judge erred in his instructions to a jury regarding a parent' s " privilege to discipline a child."
The prosecution of Peterson centered on the reasonable force a parent can use to discipline a child without it becoming abuse. Reasonable force is defined in Wisconsin law as " force which a reasonable person would believe is necessary." Circuit Judge Harold Froehlich wrongly substituted " intentional" for " excessive" in reading one key instruction to the jury regarding the discipline privilege, the three-judge appeals court said.
But the mistake was not serious enough to prejudice Peterson's right to a fair trial, Judge Gordon Myse wrote.
" We cannot conclude on this record that the jury was probably misled, " Myse wrote. " Throughout the trial, the issue was continually and correctly identified to be whether Peterson used excessive force in disciplining his stepdaughter. The record is replete with examples."
Peterson was sentenced to a year in jail and seven years probation.
According to court records, he admitted he placed his stepdaughter over his knees Feb. 20, 1996, at their Appleton home and spanked her with his hand four to six times on the buttocks through her clothes.
Peterson said his wife requested the spanking because the girl did not obey her requests to pick up after herself and the discipline was to " break her" in an attempt to change her behavior, court records said.
The next day, the director of a Head Start school program the child attended noticed bruising in the area of the child' s buttocks and reported it to social workers.
A police officer who saw that girl that day reported " there were hand imprints clearly that I could see on the buttocks, " court records said.
A doctor who examined the girl determined " a pretty severe spanking" was needed to cause such bruises, court records said.
Peterson claimed he acted reasonably in the discipline and some of the bruising on the girl occurred because of falls she experienced, court records said.
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