Malicious Punishment of a Child Attorneys

Malicious Punishment of a child in Minnesota is a serious offense that can be charged as either a gross misdemeanor or a felony depending on the circumstances. It is charged for when the State believes a parent, legal guardian, or caretaker who, intentionally or a series of intentional acts, uses excessive force or cruel discipline against a child. This definition would include general child abuse as well.

Minnesota Statute 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. 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. Other individuals would be charged with some level of assault or domestic assault.


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. On a mind boggling note, the penalties for malicious punishment are arguably less severe than the punishments of general assault.

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.

Child Molestation

Child abuse charges often are associated with sexual abuse as well. More often that not, it's a family member or close family friend that is involved with this type of act. Molestation is either sexual penetration or contact with a child under the age of 13. This is covered in complete detail on our child sex crimes page.


There are a number of defenses possibility available, all of which are dependent upon the circumstances of the case. This is why it is critical to hire a Minnesota assault attorney that will develop a personalized legal strategy, tailored to your case.

Common defenses include, but are not limited to, defense of others (similar to self-defense, but you are protecting a family member of close friend). You may have been protecting another child or someone vulnerable.

What is considered unreasonable force or cruel discipline under the statute is certainly up for debate. The circumstances are certainly important to understand when this is charged and simple discipling of a child shouldn't be considered abuse.

Beyond raising these common defenses, any good Minnesota assault attorney will investigate the allegations, hire an investigator if necessary, and figure out just how compliant the complaining victim is to the State. If witnesses are unavailable, the State’s case becomes exponentially weaker.

Case Results

To see just how successful our approach is, here are some representative case results:

State v. C.N.

Charges: Malicious Punishment of a Child - Gross Misdemeanor

Resolution: Plea to an amended count of misdemeanor disorderly conduct. The client must complete a mere five days of community service, pay a minimal fine, and follow the terms of her CHIPs case for one year of probation. This is an incredible result for the client because the consequences of a conviction at trial - which was likely - would have resulted in her being kicked out of the Army without pension, she could have lost her job, and, most importantly, it would have made it all but impossible to fight for reunification with her kids in the pending CHIPs matter. But, now, with the plea to a disorderly conduct with zero facts relating to her children, none of those collateral consequences are in play and she can work towards getting her children back. This truly is a fantastic result that was negotiated on her behalf.

State v. J.M

Charges: Gross Misdemeanor Child Endangerment

Resolution: Reduction to Disorderly Conduct, Fine only/Petty Misdemeanor. This nearly three year old matter came to Dan after two other lawyers had intervened, neither of whom could resolve the case and had simply set it for jury trial, unfortunately without any real defense. Dan negotiated with a team of prosecutors, and convinced them (armed with proof that his client had completed his recommended assessments and therapeutic programming) there'd be no repeat offenses. Demands for jail time and a jarring record of conviction (think lying/cheating/stealing/MASSIVE record-check impact) were dropped, and the case wrapped with minimal impact. Client is rapturous.

North Star Criminal Defense - Proven Malicious Punishment of a Child Attorneys

A successful defense must take a diligent and aggressive approach. Diligence in learning everything about the facts from all angles, which may involve retaining a private investigator, and aggressive in arguing why your actions do not amount to neglect as defined by statute and interpreted by the courts. Our team will be thorough in our investigation of the facts, understanding the medical definitions, and knowing how to take advantage of loose definitions in the statute. North Star Criminal Defense is the right malicious punishment of a child attorneys for you. Contact our criminal defense team today for a free consultation.