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Is it legal to spank a child in Virginia?

I often meet with well meaning parents who have been accused of assault on a family member in violation of Virginia Code ยง18.2-57.2 who are in fact guilty of nothing more than spanking an unruly child.  These concerned parents want to know whether spanking is a crime in Virginia.  The answer is more complicated than one might suspect.  First and foremost, spanking a child is not prohibited in Virginia, and there is no Virginia Code section directly on point in this regard.  However, the Virginia Supreme Court has provided some guidance on the matter in stating that "a parent has a right to punish a child within the bounds of moderation and reason, so long as he does it for the welfare of the child; but if he exceeds due moderation, he becomes criminally liable."  Carpenter v. Commonwealth, 186 Va. 851 (1947).  The problem with this rule is that "moderation and reason" lack any specific definition.  Is it acceptable to spank a child twice?  How about ten times?  What if I use a belt?  Or a switch?  None of these questions are answered directly.  However, the Court provides some guidance in that the legality of a particular manner and degree of corporal punishment shall be determined by taking into consideration the "age, size and conduct of the child, the nature of his misconduct, the nature of the instrument used for punishment, and the kind of marks or wounds inflicted on the body of the child". 
The bottom line is that in Virginia, parents (and those acting in parental roles) may spank or otherwise corporally discipline a child as long as they do so within the bounds of "moderation and reason".  Unfortunately, parents using this method of behavior modification do so at their own risk.  Our society is increasingly intolerant of discipline in any form and increasingly tolerant of bad behavior in children.  What you may view as punishment of a child within the bounds of moderation and reason may be viewed by a judge or jury as a criminal assault.  If you or someone you love are facing a charge related to spanking or disciplining a child, contact us right away.  We understand this complex area of law and are ready to fight for you!   
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The Law Offices of Shawn Cline - Virginia Beach Criminal Defense Attorney
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Hampton, VA 23669