Thursday, June 5, 2008

Court gets behind spanking, to a degree

In the case of a boy paddled 36 times, the state Supreme Court says the practice is legal unless punishment is excessive or cruel.
Last update: May 31, 2008 - 12:34 AM
Three years after Shawn Fraser landed in court for paddling his unruly son 36 times, the Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled that spanking a child isn't necessarily abuse.
In a unanimous decision released Friday, the court declined to adopt a "bright-line rule that the infliction of any pain constitutes either physical injury or physical abuse, because to do so would effectively prohibit all corporal punishment of children by their parents."
And the state, wrote Justice Alan Page, "did not intend to ban corporal punishment."
Shawn Fraser found himself in the midst of controversy in 2005 when he tried to curb the behavior of his son Gerard, who was then 12 and weighed 195 pounds. When other discipline failed to work, he took a wooden paddle -- in 12-blow increments -- to his son's upper thighs. The spanking followed an incident in which Gerard ran away from home and lied about his whereabouts.
The boy called authorities after the paddling.
The Hennepin County District Court determined Gerard and his younger brother, Caleb, needed protective services, but the Court of Appeals reversed that ruling, determining the parents weren't physically abusive.
The Supreme Court's decision affirmed the Court of Appeals.
"We're elated," said Natalie Fraser, Shawn Fraser's wife. Shawn Fraser could not be reached for comment. As a condition of keeping the boys during the appeals, their father agreed not to spank them, said Jill Clark, who represented Natalie Fraser.
On Friday, Gerard Fraser, now 15, said he's glad the case is settled, because it was stressful for his family.
"They didn't, like, abuse us or anything," Gerard said. "I was a really bad kid."
Gerard said he doesn't get into much trouble anymore but if he and his brother, now 14, misbehave, their father withholds their allowances or revokes other privileges.
In its ruling last year, the Court of Appeals determined that, given Gerard Fraser's age and weight, the force used on him was moderate and the discipline was not cruel or excessive. The Court of Appeals also determined that the Hennepin County District Court finding that the home was a "dangerous environment" was premised on the erroneous finding of abuse.
The Court of Appeals said that for intervention to be justified, unreasonable force or cruel discipline that is excessive under the circumstances must be used. Hennepin County appealed that ruling.
Friday, the Supreme Court said that the evidence was insufficient to determine whether the boys were mentally or physically injured.
The Supreme Court declined to return the case to the district court for further findings.
"Almost three years have passed since the incident at issue, during most of which time the children have been living at home without apparent further incident," Page wrote.
A determination now as to whether the boys needed protection three years ago "seems a needless use of judicial resources."
The county attorney's office deferred requests for comment to the state Department of Human Services, which did not return a call late Friday.
"My client is very happy the long nightmare is over," said Jill Waite, Shawn Fraser's lawyer.
Staff writer Patrice Relerford contributed to this report. Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747
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