Wisconsin laws protect a parent’s right to discipline their children, even to spank them. The crime of physical abuse to a child exceeds what would reasonably be expected as a means of discipline. The key term in that statement is “reasonably” and the key issue is what constitutes “reasonableness” before the line of abuse is crossed. Whether the allegations cite scalding water or a fall down the stairs, there are always those people who will assume evil intentions. The result of those assumptions is often a criminal charge.
The State must prove three elements:
1. that the defendant caused a great bodily harm to the victim,
2. that the defendant recklessly or intentionally caused such harm, and
3. that the victim had not attained the age of 18 years at the time of the alleged offense.
Great Bodily Harm: is harm that substantially creates the risk of a death, permanent or prolonged loss or dysfunctional use of a limb or organ, permanent serious disfigurement, or some other very serious bodily injury.
Intentional Harm: can be charged as “intentionally” causing harm or “recklessly” causing harm. “Intentional” harm has 3 levels of severity: great bodily harm, bodily harm, or conduct creating substantial risk of great bodily harm.
Reckless Harm: if the charge is “reckless,” the same three levels apply as intentional harm, but the penalties are somewhat lower. “Recklessness” requires that the defendant’s conduct created a situation of “unreasonable risk of harm” to the victim, and that the defendant demonstrated a “conscious disregard” for the safety of the victim.
A common defense for this type of charge is that parents, who are often the accused of this crime, have the right to “reasonably” discipline their children. The core issue usually comes down to determining what constitutes “reasonableness.” Another common defense is that the abuse was an accident or mistake.
Wisconsin penalties for Physical Abuse of a Child
- Intentional Physical Abuse Of A Child
- Great bodily harm: 10 years prison (Maximum)
- Bodily harm by conduct which creates a high probability of great bodily harm: 7 years (Maximum)
- Bodily harm: 3 years prison (Maximum)
- Reckless Physical Abuse Of A Child
- Great bodily harm: 5 years prison (Maximum)
- Bodily harm by conduct which creates a high probability of great bodily harm: 3 years (Maximum)
- Bodily harm: 18 months prison (Maximum)