Previously, our contributor Charlton Stanley wrote about Kanawha County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Plants in a controversial foreclosure matter. Now, Plants is back in the news as the subject of a criminal case as opposed to the charging prosecutor. Plants is charged with beating his son with a belt and leaving a considerable bruise. He is claiming a constitutional right to such beatings as a parental choice on discipline.
Plants, the elected Republican prosecutor for the county, was charged with the beating after his ex-wife found a 6- to 7-inch bruise left by a leather belt. She says that Plants used the belt roughly ten times on the 11-year-old boy after he shoved his stepbrother off a scooter.
Plants is now married to his former secretary — a relationship that has previously caused concerns over favoritism in raises and ticket dismissals.
Plants is moving for a dismissal based on a constitutional claim of parental rights. The motion argued that, while the punishment left a mark, the “intent here was to discipline a child out of love and guidance, not to injure the child.”
The son said that Plants held him by his arm and struck him ten times with the belt. He says that Plants then took the boy upstairs and “stood him in front of his stepbrother” and asked the stepbrother “Do you think I whipped him enough?”
Some four days after the beating, the boy still have a large bruise on his thigh. Plants, 37, insists that he only struck the boy twice for no more than 20 seconds.
Plants is 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighs 280 pounds and played as a fullback on West Virginia University football team.
Plants has two sons with Allison Plants and a child with his new wife, Sarah Foster.
Allison Plants was granted an emergency domestic-violence protection order by Kanawha Family Court Judge Mike Kelly in February. Plants was charged in March with violating the DVP order. Both misdemeanor charges he faces carry a penalty of up to a year in prison.
Clearly, there are limits to a parent’s use of forms of physical punishment in drawing a line between parental discretion and child abuse. However, Plants could raises a difficult question. While child rearing experts have almost uniformly denounced spankings and beatings as punishments, many parents continue to use such punishment and neither society nor the courts) have found such discipline is by definition abuse. For example, use of a spoon to beat a child was not found to be abuse. Some states are moving to codify the level of permitted spankings. We have been politicians and judges caught up in this debate. Indeed, one judge actually ordered spanking in his courtroom while another chose to spank inmates in his chambers. Yet, we have seen these cases continue to be brought including one involving a mother on an airplane.
In the wooden spoon case, the California court stressed that there was no intention to leave a bruise and that “the spanking was entirely the product of a genuine and deliberate disciplinary purpose, i.e., to arrest troubling behavior patterns exhibited by the daughter.” It is a parental practice that has been around for centuries.
Growing up, my father would occasionally spank me or my four siblings. However, he would only use his bare hand and never use any belt or object. He had been abused as a child and he did not like spanking. He would quit as soon as we cried and apologized (which I often did on my way to the table to cut to the redemption stage more quickly). I did not view it as abusive and it was rarely done in my house. Notably, while I do not entirely reject spanking, I have yet to spank any one of my four kids. I have never found it necessary, particularly with the far more severe punishment of denying electronics. My kids would accept the rack before the loss of the Wii or XBox.
I have to admit that I was particularly disturbed by the account of the boy in the Plants case that he was brought in front of his stepbrother who was asked if he was spanked enough. Yet, I would not argue that that is abusive. I just view it as a remarkably poor choice of a parent if it did in fact occur. The legal question is more straightforward (though hardly easy). It is a question of degree since it is doubtful that the court would declare any and all spanking to be abuse. That leaves a rather tough question of line drawing. Any switch or belt or spoon is likely to leave a bruise. Spanking is supposed to cause physical pain. That is why many experts view it as brutal and counterproductive.
If there is no evidence that Plants’ broke the skin and the examination found a single bruise, should the court dismiss the case in your view? The problem that I foresee is that the court would have to rule on the record as it exists now — without expert or live testimony. It seems to me that a large bruise can reflect excessive force (particularly days later). The court would need to have a good idea about the level of force that would leave such a mark even if the court accepted that some spanking is permissible.
What do you think?
Source: WV Gazette