In Re D.M. – Reinforcing the Parental Disciplinary Privilege
The recent case of In Re D.M. which came down from the Second District gives important guidance to dependency courts and reinforces the parental disciplinary privilege in child abuse and child custody cases. It involves a mother who used her hand or a sandal to spank her two children on the buttocks on rare occasions when lesser disciplinary measures proved ineffective. The spanking was never hard enough to leave bruises or marks. The trial court concluded that mother inflicted “serious physical harm” within the meaning of Welfare and Institutions Code section 300 without first examining whether her conduct fell outside the right of parents, which exists elsewhere in California civil and criminal law, to discipline their children as long as the discipline is genuinely disciplinary, is warranted by the circumstances, and is reasonable (rather than excessive) in severity. The appellate court relied on People v. Whitehurst ((1992) 9 Cal.App.4th 1045) and Gonzalez v. Santa Clara County ((2014) 223 Cal.App.4th 72) to conclude that the juvenile court erred in making that finding. Because the trial court’s ruling in this case relied on its categorical view that hitting children with shoes is “physical abuse” and “not a proper form of discipline,” the Second District vacated the court’s finding as to mother and remanded back to the trial court to so that the court may apply the reasonable parental discipline doctrine.