Is parental discipline a defense or an element of a crime under the Ohio domestic violence and assault statutes?

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On February 19, 2020, the Ohio Supreme Court came out with the decision, State v. Faggs, Slip Opinion No. 2020-Ohio-523, where the Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals and held that reasonable parental discipline is an affirmative defense to a charge under Ohio’s domestic violence and assault statutes.

What happened in the case?

The appellant, Faggs, was charged with one third-degree-felony count of domestic violence under O.R.C. § 2919.25(A) and one first-degree misdemeanor count of assault under O.R.C. § 2903.13(A). The incident that gave rise to these charges involved the seven-year-old son of Faggs’s live-in girlfriend. Faggs allegedly beat the boy after he acted out in school.

Faggs’s attorney argued during the bench trial that the allegations were exaggerated as Faggs’s conduct was merely “a reasonable and necessary exercise of parental discipline and corporal punishment.” The court found Faggs guilty of both charges.

On appeal, Faggs argued that the trial court had violated his constitutionally protected interest in raising and controlling his child by erroneously placing the burden of proving reasonable discipline on him. The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s decision because Faggs provided little authority as to why he should be afforded a full array of constitutional rights when he was only acting in loco parentis. The court further reasoned that “so long as the state was required to prove each element of the underlying offense beyond a reasonable doubt, treating reasonable parental discipline as an affirmative defense and placing the burden of proving that defense upon the accused does not violate due process.”

What did the Court do?

The Court was concerned with whether, under Ohio’s domestic violence and assault statutes, reasonable parental discipline is a component of the physical-harm element or whether it is an affirmative defense. Specifically, the Court was concerned with whether the state bears the burden to prove unreasonable parental discipline or if it is in the nature of an affirmative defense.

In analyzing the issue, the Court sought to clarify any confusion left by its decision in State v. Suchomski, 58 Ohio St.3d 74. In Suchomski, the Court provided an overly legalistic definition of “injury,” which resulted in confusion over who had the burden to prove the reasonableness of the discipline.

The Court applied a three-part analysis in clarifying any confusion left by Suchomski. The first part of the analysis highlighted that reasonableness is not an element of the offenses. The Court noted that its goal is to give effect to legislative intent. As such, since the legislature did not include a reasonableness requirement, but rather language to the effect of “regardless of its gravity or duration,” proof of unreasonable parental discipline is not a component of the physical-harm element.

The second part of the analysis focused on whether reasonable parental discipline is an affirmative defense. In Ohio, the two types of affirmative defenses are (1) “expressly designated,” O.R.C. § 2901.05(D)(1)(a), and (2) “involving an excuse or justification peculiarly within the knowledge of the accused, on which the accused can fairly be required to adduce supporting evidence,” O.R.C. § 2901.05(D)(1)(b). After determining that O.R.C. § 2901.05(D)(1)(b) applied to the case at hand, the Court analyzed whether the three requirements were met. Those three requirements to qualify as an affirmative defense are (1) fit the definition of “excuse” or “justification,” (2) the justification must be “peculiarly within the knowledge of the accused,” and (3) the accused can fairly produce supporting evidence. The Court ultimately held that reasonable parental discipline met all three requirements under the statute to be considered an affirmative defense.

The third part of the analysis concerned whether the classification as an affirmative defense violated Faggs’s due process rights. The Court held that under O.R.C. § 2901.05(A), “once the state has met its burden of proof for all elements of a charged offense, the burden of proof, by a preponderance of the evidence, for an affirmative defense . . . is upon the accused.” Due to the extensive precedent suggesting that the classification comports with due process, as well as the choice of language used by the General Assembly, Faggs’s due process rights were not violated.

After considering the three parts, the Court held that reasonable parental discipline is an affirmative defense, the burden is on the accused, and the classification as an affirmative defense as well as the burden of proof are not unconstitutional.

What should you take away?

Under O.R.C. § 2901.05(A), the burden of proof concerning reasonable parental discipline lies with the accused. It is on the parent to prove a reasonable exercise of parental discipline and corporal punishment as an affirmative defense. This treatment of reasonable parental discipline as an affirmative defense does not violate the due process rights of parents to raise their children as it does not unconstitutionally shift the burden of proof. Click here to read the opinion.

PUBLISHERS NOTE: I want to thank Ashlyn O’Brien, a third-year law student at the University of Dayton School of Law, for all of her assistance in drafting this blog article. Excellent job Ashlyn!

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