Malicious Punishment of a Child

Minnesota Malicious Punishment of a Child Attorneys 

neglect of childMinn. Stat. 609.377 sets out the criminal act and consequences for malicious punishment of a child in Minnesota. It may seem straightforward, but there are a number of legal issues that make this charge potentially difficult for the State.

Malicious Punishment of a Child – The Act

The statute defines the criminal act as follows:

A parent, legal guardian, or caretaker who, by an intentional act or a series of intentional acts with respect to a child, evidences unreasonable force or cruel discipline that is excessive under the circumstances.

This is wrought with issues, though. First, what is considered unreasonable force or cruel discipline is certainly debatable. As we learned in the Adrian Peterson case, differing viewpoints exist of what is unreasonable and/or cruel. Second, the act must be excessive under the circumstances. This requires an analysis of the circumstances surrounding the alleged criminal act. What may be considered unreasonable and/or cruel in one scenario may not be in a different scenario. The bottom line is there is likely room to debate whether the act is criminal – which is good enough to create reasonable doubt. A good legal defense requires a careful analysis of these issues.

It should also be noted that only certain individuals can be charged with this crime: parents, legal guardians, or caretakers.

Malicious Punishment of a Child – The Criminal Penalties 

A person charged with this crime will face either a gross misdemeanor or a felony – depending on the level of harm caused and/or facts of the case.

Gross Misdemeanor – If the criminal act results in bodily harm, the person faces a maximum of 1 year in jail and/or a fine of $3,000.

Felony – If the criminal act results in substantial bodily harm, it is a felony charge, with a maximum sentence of five years in prison and/or a fine of $10,000.

Felony – If the criminal act results in great bodily harm, it also is a felony, with a maximum sentence of ten years in prison and/or a fine of $20,000.

The difference between these consequences is the level of harm caused.

  • The term ‘bodily harm’ is defined as physical pain or injury, illness, or any impairment of physical condition. It is a low threshold to evidence pain.
  • The term ‘substantial bodily harm’ is defined as bodily injury which involves a temporary but substantial disfigurement, or which causes a temporary but substantial loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ, or which causes a fracture of any bodily member.
  • The term ‘great bodily harm’ is defined as bodily injury which creates a high probability of death, or which causes serious permanent disfigurement, or which causes a permanent or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ or other serious bodily harm.

As you can imagine, there is some grey area as to whether certain kind of harm should be considered only bodily versus substantial. Again, a careful defense must explore this possibility.

In addition to the type of harm, if there is a prior assault, 1st degree sex crime, or a threat of violence conviction in the past five years, the charge is a felony. And if the child is under the age of 4 and the harm was caused to the head, eyes, neck, or results in multiple bruises, it, too, is a felony. In both cases, the maximum sentence is five years in prison and/or a fine of $10,000.

A successful defense must be aggressive and diligent in investigating the facts, understanding the medicals, and knowing how it all works together with these loose definitions in the statute. North Star Criminal Defense is the right malicious punishment of a child defense team for you.

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