WEST CHESTER--Should a parent have the right to spank a child so hard that he or she leaves bruises? A Chester County jury on Thursday said at least one father did.
After deliberations of almost four hours, the Common Pleas Court jury found a 34-year-old West Whiteland man not guilty of simple assault and endangering the welfare of children in a Feb. 1 incident in which he admitted spanking his 9-year-old son for lying about wetting his bed.
The prosecutor in the case had urged the jury to convict the man, a lumber company warehouse laborer whose name is being withheld to protect the identity of the child, for using unacceptible force in disciplining his son, leaving him badly bruised.
But Terrence Marlowe, the attorney representing the man, told the jury that his client had been "wrongfully charged," for behaving as any parent had the right to.
"I may not do it," Marlowe said of spanking one's child. "You may not do it. But people are allowed to do it as long as it is reasonable."
The victim, a thin, tousle-haired boy now 10 years old, testified that the spanking he received had been so hard that he could not sit down in school for two hours afterwards.
Pictures of his buttocks taken two days afterwards, and shown to the the jury in the trial, revealed a mass of red and purple bruises that a doctor testified had come from a "shearing force."
WHat this man did to his son that day "is not teaching," said Assistant District Attorney Daria Tecco in her closing argument Thursday. "This is someone who is frustrated and who lashed out at a 9-year-old," she said.
The incident, rather than being a matter of correct discipline, fit the definition of an assault because the father had knowingly caused injury to his son, Tecco said.
In Pennsylvania, parents are allowed by law to use force--such as corporal punishment--as a means of preventing or punishing misconduct in their children, so long that it does not cause death, serious injury, disfigurement, extreme pain or mental distress, or gross degradation.
Neither Tecco nor Marlowe debated, in their statements to the jury, the pros and cons of spanking as a form of discipline or punishment. Both concentrated on what happened in the boy's case.
But Marlowe said that the father had meant to spank the child only so that it would sting and he would learn a lesson about lying.
According to the testimony from the child and his father, the boy had a long problem with bed-wetting episodes, and his father had tried to help him stop. The boy, however, occasionally lied about the problem.
On Feb. 1, when the boy came downstairs for breakfast, his father asked if he had wet the bed. He twice said he had not, but after his father asked a third time, admitted he had.
The man testified that he lost his temper then, not because of the bed-wetting but because his son had lied.
He sent his son upstairs, and came in a few minutes later, taking him across the knee. Pulling down his son's pants, he began spanking him.
Testimony about how long the spanking lasted was the major difference between the boy's version of events and his father's.
The boy said that he was spanked for five minutes solid, and that his father told him, "If you do it again. I'm going to make your bottom bleed."
His father said he had only spanked the child five times, and had not used much force in the first two blows.
The bruises were not discovered until two days later, when he told his older sister--who lived with his mother--and she told her mother. His parents are divorced.
Marlowe contended the boy's mother was using the incident to get custody of her son, for which the father had primary custody. The mother, it was revealed during the trial, had been convicted of arson for burning down the couple's home during their 1989 divorce.
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