The North Carolina State Supreme Court is currently determining whether a father paddling his son counts as an act of child abuse. The decisions comes as a case from nearly three years ago is revisited after appeal. The question at hand is whether over a father who paddled his son was abusing him or disciplining him at the time.
In 2015, Dean Varner paddled his 10-year-old son when he refused to eat pizza for dinner. The punishment left black and purple bruises on his son’s legs, as well as bruising his foot to the extent that he was limping for days after. Varner was given a misdemeanor conviction and sentenced to 18 months of supervised probation.
Katy Dickinson, Varner’s defense attorney, argued that her client did not commit child abuse but rather acted within the realm of his rights as a parent by utilizing corporal punishment to discipline his son and that the bruises went away after a few days. In North Carolina, parents are allowed to apply moderate punishment to their children, which means corporal punishment that has no lasting injuries. Dickinson says the original trial judge should have informed the jury of that information.
“The way in which the jury was instructed allowed each juror to come up with his or her own definition of what moderate punishment was, without any guidance,” said Dickinson. “There’s a reasonable possibility that the jury convicted Mr. Varner based on its belief that somehow the punishment was excessive even though (the boy’s) injuries were only temporary.”
State attorney Anne Middleton argues that bruises that last for several days and force a child to limp don’t fall under the category of moderate punishment. Now, the court will be revisiting the case to determine whether or not Varner crossed the line and committed child abuse.