Legal Lis Podcast: The Adrian Peterson Child Injury Case


In this week’s Legal Lis, one of the subjects I discussed was the recent issue involving Adrian Peterson and his method of disciplining his child. If you haven’t heard much on this story, the basic facts are as follows: Peterson, who plays for the Minnesota Vikings, has been indicted by a Texas grand jury for beating his four-year-old son with a “switch.” The incident occurred in May in Spring, Texas following an argument between Peterson’s son and another child over a video game. Peterson chalked it up to his style of parenting, simply a way to discipline his son, but the extensive injuries piqued the interest of law enforcement. According to reports and photos from the Houston Police Department, Peterson’s son received visible cuts and bruises to his back, buttocks, legs, hands and even scrotum. Because of the severity of the injuries, Peterson now faces charges of injury to a child.

This case inevitably makes you wonder: To what extent should parents be permitted to discipline their children as they see fit?

The emotional response is oftentimes that a parent should have a lot of freedom in doing just that, parenting. Some parents spank, some use timeouts, others take things away – each parent has a different way of enforcing rules and setting boundaries. And parents should have that right. You could argue all day that one way is better than the next, but in the end, a parent is going to raise their children (hopefully) in the way they think will result in kids who respect others and who recognize boundaries. I know good parents who spank and I know good parents who would never discipline physically – and neither method is necessarily better or worse than the other.

But a problem arises when the fine line between spanking to discipline and actually beating a child is blurred. And when that line is blurred or crossed, that is precisely where the legal side of things comes in. For the most part, states tend to agree that a parent should be able to discipline a child – to a certain extent – as he or she sees fit.

For example, here in New York, a “parent, guardian or other person entrusted with the care and supervision of a person under the age of twenty-one……may use physical force, but not deadly physical force, upon such person when and to the extent that he reasonably believes it necessary to maintain discipline or to promote the welfare of such person.”  And a New York court recently held that when a father spanked his child with an open hand in order to discipline the child, this was a “reasonable use of force.” A four-judge panel ruled in the unanimous decision that, “the father’s open-handed spanking of the child as a form of discipline after he heard the child curse at an adult was a reasonable use of force and, under the circumstances presented here, did not constitute excessive corporal punishment.”

In California, “’serious physical harm’ does not include reasonable and age-appropriate spanking to the buttocks where there is no evidence of serious physical injury.”  And a court has recently found that a California mother who used a wooden spoon to spank her 12-year-old was not a child abuser.

Laws and cases all across the U.S. support the notion that a parent can discipline their children when it’s reasonable. So what’s the big deal with Adrian Peterson? Well, primarily, it’s that his method of discipline was pretty extreme. Some would argue that the punishment went well beyond just plain maintaining discipline. The law in Texas is pretty lenient when it comes to parental discipline, stating that “the use of force, but not deadly force, against a child younger than 18 years is justified: (1) if the actor is the child’s parent or stepparent or is acting in loco parentis to the child; and (2) when and to the degree the actor reasonably believes the force is necessary to discipline the child or to safeguard or promote his welfare.​”

But that doesn’t mean a parent can beat a child in Texas without breaking the law. What this law clearly does is leave a lot of room for parents to decide how to discipline. What it does not do is allow a parent to beat a child and say it’s in the name of discipline after the fact.

The fact that a second grand jury has indicted Peterson on a child-injury charge indicates that at least some believe he went beyond what the law allows. But Peterson maintains that his conduct was reasonable. What do you think?

You can hear more of my thoughts on this issue on the Legal Lis podcast: 

2 thoughts on “Legal Lis Podcast: The Adrian Peterson Child Injury Case”

  1. Very solid analysis but we would expect nothing less from you! I was spanked as a child and we spanked our kids, when necessary, but we NEVER crossed the line. What he did was completely unreasonable and he should suffer the consequences.

  2. I was spanked as a child….a bare hand on a bare bottom, and yes it left a red mark for awhile. BUT, it was my mother doing the discipline, not my father. I heard that from many of my friends, that their mother was the person that did the spanking. In this case, though I do not believe that Peterson meant to hurt his son, but simply make a strong impression through the discipline, when you are a Pro football player of Peterson’s size, it is probably not a smart move to use force on your child. Without all of the details in full, it is hard to say if it should be treated as a child abuse case through the courts, or simply some parenting classes.

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