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Ohio Law – When Does Corporal Punishment, Discipline, or Restraint Become Abuse? Case Law Defining Abuse in Ohio

By Will Brown, Attorney and David Wolf, Attorney
Published by Child Injury Lawyer Network


Ohio has a law in place that vaguely provides what acts of corporal punishment, discipline, and restraint constitute abuse and neglect of a child. Due to the language of Ohio Revised Code (O.R.C.) Section 2919.22 – Endangering Children, a number of Ohio appellate cases have been written further defining the law in Ohio.

In Re Miles involved an Ohio mother’s fiancée who, at the mother’s direction, bit a child on his cheek. This bite resulted in heavy bruising and bite marks. The Ohio Court stated that the key issue was whether or not the act created a “substantial risk of serious physical harm to the child.” A “serious injury” being defined as: “any physical harm that involves acute pain of such duration as to result in substantial suffering, or that involves any degree of prolonged or intractable pain.” See Ohio Revised Code O.R.C. 2901.01(A)(5)(e). In reviewing the facts, the Ohio Court held that this bite did not create a substantial risk of physical harm to the child.

Two other Ohio cases hold the opposite – that the line between appropriate corporal punishment and abuse had been crossed. The Ohio Court in the case of In re K.B. found that there had been physical abuse when a two year old child had excessive bruises from physical punishment. The Ohio Court here stated there are several factors that need to be considered: “Specific factors to be considered by the trial court include the circumstances giving rise to the harm to the child, the past history of the child, the nature and manner of the discipline administered to the child and the measure of discipline.

State v. Surles is another Ohio case that finds there was physical abuse beyond what is allowed for normal corporal punishment. However, again, the facts in Surles are much more compelling than those in the present case. The parents in Surles took turns beating their children with a belt which they had intentionally moistened in order to create more pain.

In Samples v. Cruz, the Ohio found there was appropriate corporal punishment when a step-mother pulled her step-daughter’s hair several times, grabbed her hand and shook it until the daughter expressed discomfort, and grabbed and slapped her face. In spite of all of this physical action, the court found that it was appropriate corporal punishment.

In Thompson v. Koontz, the case involved a mother who whipped her son with a belt because he did not bathe himself properly. Again, the Court found that it was appropriate corporal punishment. The Court stated, “The ultimate question that is presented to the Court in these cases is a rather difficult question and it becomes a determination of severity, how severe was the use of corporal punishment?

So, in Ohio, the line between appropriate corporal punishment and illegal child abuse remains vague. The test requires a case by case analysis of the circumstances of the punishment and the severity of the physical actions taken. If there is any question whether something rises to the level of abuse, the parent, caregiver, or other person should follow the cautious route and avoid the corporal punishment. This may avoid criminal prosecution and the involvement of Ohio authorities. More importantly, the safety and well being of the child should be the primary goal rather than the desire of a parent or caregiver to teach a child a lesson and to show who is the boss.

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