According to an article in the MetroWest Daily News, a Holliston man was recently arrested for slapping his four year old son. The article states that the defendnt was on a supervised visit with his two children – the alleged victim and his older brother, who is seven years old. During the visit, the defendant reportedly slapped the four year old in the head because he refused to stay in his time out. The child apparently fell backwards as a result and hit his head on a doorframe, which caused a lump to form on his head. After this occurred, the defendant spoke with the children’s mother and relayed what had happened. As a result of the incident, the defendant was arrested for assault and battery causing injury to a child under fourteen.
For a jury to convict the defendant of assault and battery causing injury to a child under fourteen under G. L. c. 265, § 13J, the Commonwealth would have to prove the following beyond a reasonable doubt: (1) that the alleged victim was under fourteen years of age; (2) that the defendant touched the person of the alleged victim, without having any right or excuse for doing so; (3) that the defendant intended to touch the alleged victim – in other words, that the defendant touched his son deliberately rather than accidentally; and (4) that the alleged victim suffered bodily injury.
A second way in which a person may be guilty of an assault and battery under the statute is if the person engaged in reckless rather than intentional conduct. In order to prove that the defendant is guilty under a theory of reckless conduct, the Commonwealth must prove three things beyond a reasonable doubt: (1) that the alleged victim was under fourteen years of age; (2) that the defendant intentionally engaged in actions which caused bodily injury to the alleged victim; and (3) that the defendant’s actions amounted to reckless conduct.
Under either theory, bodily injury is defined as a substantial impairment of the physical condition, including: a burn, a fracture of any bone, a subdural hematoma, any injury to any internal organ, any injury which occurs as the result of repeated harm to any bodily function or organ including human skin, and/or any physical condition which substantially imperils a child’s health or welfare.
Here, the defendant appears to have at least two potential defenses to the charge. First, the defendant could argue that he was lawfully disciplining his child. While the Massachusetts legislature does not specifically allow for the use of physical discipline by a parent, case law alludes to the ability of a parent to use physical force to discipline a child as long as the physical force is for the specific purpose of discipline, is conducted in a controlled manner rather than the result of an emotional outburst, and does not result in bruising or significant injury. Given the fact that the defendant specifically put his hands on his son because his son was refusing to comply with his time out, the defendant can argue that he was within his rights to hit his son for the purpose of disciplining him. Additionally, the defendant appears to have a strong argument that he did not cause “bodily injury” as defined under the statute. Although the son did sustain a bump as a result of the incident, a bump undeniably fails to rise to the level of a “substantial impairment of the physical condition” as it’s defined under the statute. As such, the defendant will be able to argue that the Commonwealth has failed to meet its burden in relation this element.
Regardless of potential defenses that the defendant may raise, the charges are still quite serious. Additionally, the charges have potential collateral consequences, as a conviction may impact the defendant’s ability to see and/or care for his children. Therefore, the defendant undoubtedly needs an experienced attorney to help present his defenses, guide him through the criminal justice system, and advise him as to the collateral consequences of a conviction. If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges, you will similarly need an experienced attorney to help you. Attorney Daniel Cappetta has helped hundreds of clients defend their cases. Call him for a free consultation today.