Copyright © 2001 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.
Nearly 18 months after affirming a parent's right to use corporal punishment on children, the Maine Supreme Court clarified the issue Thursday in a ruling against two parents.
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court unanimously upheld a Bangor district judge's ruling that a 12-year-old girl from Dexter was in jeopardy because her adoptive parents went too far with spankings and locking her away for so long that she once had to urinate in a cat litter box.
The case came to the courts after the girl's mother authorized her biological son to spank the girl after she hit the spray nozzle on the sink, causing water to spray on some clean dishes on June 22, 2000.
The 23-year-old son, who weighed more than 300 pounds, was instructed to strike the girl 35 times with a leather belt, but the girl fled after being struck five times.
She ran in front of a car, pleaded with the motorist for help and was driven to the Dexter Police Department, where she was found to have large welts on her buttocks and thigh.
Last year, the Supreme Court reversed an assault conviction on a father from Cumberland who had grabbed his son hard on the shoulder, put his hand over his mouth and told him to ''shut up!''
In that case, the court defined acceptable parental discipline as that which does not produce anything more than ''transient pain'' and ''temporary marks.''
The punishment was much more severe than that in the Dexter case, Justice Donald Alexander wrote for the court.
Alexander noted that the parents regularly locked the girl in a room with little heat, and that the parents got carried away with the spankings. He noted that it took three weeks for the girl's welts to heal.
He also noted that the parents showed no interest in learning about alternative punishments, and that they had expressed reservations about taking the girl back unless they could spank her.