We have been following rulings on spanking where parents have been arrested for the disciplining of their children. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has overturned the conviction of Jean Dorvil who was arrested after he spanked his daughter in public.
The incident occurred in 2011 in a Brockton bus terminal while Jean Dorvil was walking with his daughter and her mother. Witnesses said that Dorvil kicked his daughter in her backside while yelling “shut up,” and then spanked her. An officer said that he saw the mother shield the daughter from him as the child was crying. When confronted, Dorvil said he was disciplining his daughter and denied kicking her. Another officer said that he witnessed a slow and hesitant kick. His wife later said that he spanked her because the child refused to go to her mother and continued to play near the street.
He was conviction of assault and battery and the judge stated that if “you’re in public with your kids, it’s not appropriate to discipline in this fashion.” That is a curious distinction. Could he do these same acts in private?
Dorvil lost his appeal based on the appellate courts view that the child lacked the capacity to understand the discipline and that the father spanked her “when he was upset and angry.” Again, another curious distinction. Does that mean he can spank her if he is not angry?
The Court laid out guidelines for spanking in overturning the conviction. This includes permitted spanking so long as the use of force is reasonable; it is used to safeguard or promote the welfare of the child; and it doesn’t cause severe emotional distress, “gross degradation” or physical harm “beyond fleeting pain or minor, transient marks.”
Writing for the seven-member court, Justice Barbara Lenk sought to balance protecting children against abuse and avoiding unnecessary interference with parental rights.
Here is the full opinion: Dorvil opinion