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Is It Discipline or Abuse

Recent news reports are filled with stories about the National Football League (NFL) and its handling of the Adrian Peterson child abuse allegations. The incident has sparked a national debate about the difference between child discipline and child abuse. While some people find his actions reasonable, others look at the pictures of his child and see a parent who went too far. It is this same debate that often takes place in the courtroom when a Florida citizen is accused of child abuse and, when that happens, an experienced lawyer is vital to the presentation of an effective defense.

Florida television station WTSP 10 reports that the star Minnesota Vikings running back was indicted for injury to a child. According to police reports, Peterson hit his son with a switch, causing open wounds on his legs. Initial news of the incident broke when pictures of the four-year-old were published, showing the series of cuts. In response, Peterson issued a statement declaring his innocence and explaining that he had no intention of harming his son. Though the legal matter is ongoing in the criminal courts, the NFL player is feeling the wrath of an unforgiving public, which is often the case for defendants accused of child abuse. While he was initially suspended by the Vikings, he was reportedly reinstated two days later, only to be placed on the exempt list pending the outcome of the criminal case.

Child Abuse Under Florida Law

 Parents are allowed to discipline their children under Florida law. The statute is meant to balance the rights of parents to raise their children in a manner they see fit with the protection of children from abuse. However, the line between spanking and abuse is often blurred, leading to numerous child abuse allegations each year. According to the Department of Children and Families, more than 700 suspected cases of child abuse are reported on a monthly basis. While many of these reports are true abuse cases, a substantial number of them involve legitimate attempts at legal discipline.

The Florida child abuse statute is separated into four categories:

  • Aggravated child abuse is the willful and malicious punishment of a child that causes bodily harm. The charge is a first degree felony.
  • Culpable negligence is willfully neglecting a child and causing bodily harm. It is classified as a felony in the second degree.
  • Knowingly abusing a child without causing bodily injury is a third degree felony.
  • Knowingly neglecting a child without causing bodily injury is also a felony in the third degree.

As included in the statute, the state is required to prove a level of intent on the part of the accused. An lawyer may argue against this intent standard by showing that the accused acted with no malice or willful intention. An aggressive defense can protect an innocent parent from an undeserved conviction.

If you or a loved one are facing allegations of child abuse, contact the capable lawyers of Ratzan & Faccidomo, LLC today at (305) 330-3905 for a confidential and free consultation.

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