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Can You Go to Jail for Hitting Your Child?

What Is Corporal Punishment?

Corporal punishment is a discipline in the form of physical punishment. Maybe you were spanked as a child when you misbehaved, but over the decades, corporal punishment has died down. However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

A 2012 study found that 20% of Americans agreed “it is sometimes necessary to discipline a child with a good, hard spanking,” according to Brookings Institution. In contrast, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2006 called physical punishment “legalized violence against children” that should be fully eliminated through “legislative, administrative, social and educational measures.” So, what’s the best way to go about disciplining your child without getting accused of child abuse?

A child abuse accusation can easily feel like a conviction with the pressure and humiliation you may receive from your family, friends, peers, and society altogether. The stigma surrounding child abusers is enough to derail your livelihood and peace of mind for years to come, which is why you must discipline your child wisely when circumstances warrant it.

Fine Line Between Discipline and Child Abuse

Some may argue that there is a fine line between normal parent-child discipline and committing a crime against your child. This could be particularly true for parents who received corporal punishment when they were children because they may think it’s still normal to inflict corporal punishment. Now more than ever, however, physical punishment against children is decreasingly popular and generally shamed. As such, we urge against coming close to that fine line between discipline and abuse, because once you’re there, you could easily cross the line.

Physical punishments can negatively affect child development, impacting their behaviors, thoughts, and actions. As a result, a child’s overall health and wellbeing could permanently suffer due to the abuse they experienced. Child discipline is one thing, but child abuse is a crime you don’t want to be accused of.

For context, child abuse is evident through various physical, verbal, and emotional signs, including:

  • Unexplained burns, bites, bruises, broken bones, or black eyes
  • Fading bruises or other marks noticeable after being absent from school
  • Seeming frightened of parents and throwing a fuss when it is time to go home
  • Frequently being absent from school
  • Begging or stealing food or money
  • Lacking needed medical or dental care, immunizations, or glasses
  • Reporting nightmares or bedwetting
  • Demonstrating bizarre, sophisticated, or unusual sexual knowledge or behavior
  • Having difficulty walking or sitting
  • Attempting suicide
  • Reporting a lack of attachment to the parent

Wisconsin’s Child Abuse Laws

Physical abuse of a child is a felony in Wisconsin, and if suspected of this offense, you may be charged with anything from a Class A felony to a Class I felony. Depending on the type, intent, and extent of the alleged child abuse, you could be charged with the following crimes in Wisconsin:

  • Class I felony: Recklessly causing bodily harm to a child is punishable by up to $10,000 fines and/or up to 3.5 years in prison.
  • Class H felony: Intentionally causing bodily harm to a child carries a penalty of up to $10,000 fines and/or up to 6 years in prison.
  • Class H felony: Failing to protect a child from bodily harm when you know that another person has caused or intends to cause bodily harm to the child.
  • Class F felony: Failing to protect a child from great bodily harm when you know that another person has caused or intends to cause bodily harm to the child has a penalty of up to $25,000 fines and/or up to 12.5 years in prison.
  • Class E felony: Recklessly causing great bodily harm to a child is punishable by a maximum of $50,000 fines and/or up to 15 years in prison.
  • Class C felony: Intentionally causing great bodily harm to the child carries a consequence of up to $100,000 fines and/or a maximum of 40 years in prison.
  • Class B felony: Intentionally causing great bodily harm to a child at least twice is punishable by up to 60 years in prison and a fine to be determined by the judge.
  • Class A felony: Committing three or more acts of child abuse against the same child, resulting in their death, carries a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

As you can see, a conviction for child abuse in Wisconsin could get you in some serious trouble. Think twice before spanking your child, hitting them with a belt, or pinching them, to name a few, as these acts could leave a mark and raise questions about your disciplinary actions. While corporal punishment is NOT illegal, taking it too far could be illegal.

If you would like to ask questions or speak to our criminal defense lawyer about your case, call (414) 882-8382 today!