Parental Discipline not an Affirmative Defense and Measured by "Reasonableness"

State v. Roman (HSC September 11, 2008)

Background. Roman lived with his girlfriend and her 17-year-old son. On Mother's Day Roman was making tacos for dinner and asked the boy to get up off the futon and grate some cheese. Roman told him that he was not doing it right and told him to back off. Roman left the house and when he came back he saw that the boy hadn't moved from his spot on the floor. Roman testified that he "kicked him in his okole." At that point, the boy stood up and stared at him with clenched fists. Roman asked him some questions, but the boy was nonresponsive. Roman slapped him a few times. The mother tried to intervene, but she was hit by Roman. She called the police. After a bench trial, the family court concluded that the parental-discipline defense did not apply. The ICA disagreed and found the family court in error, but that the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Judge Nakamura dissented.

Once Raised, the Burden to Disprove the Parental-Discipline Defense Shifts to the Prosecution. The State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knowingly or intentionally physically abused a family or household member. HRS § 709-906. Under the parental-discipline defense, however, a parent, guardian, or other person similarly responsible, may use force (1) that is employed with due regard to the age and size of the recipient and reasonably related to the purpose of safeguarding or promoting the welfare of the minor, including the prevention or punishment of misconduct; and (2) the force was not designed to cause, or known to cause a risk of causing, substantial bodily injury, disfigurement, extreme pain or mental distress, or neurological damage. HRS § 703-309; State v. Crouser, 81 Hawai'i 5, 10-11, 911 P.2d 725, 730-31 (1996).

The defense is available "so long as some evidence was adduced, no matter how weak, inconclusive, or unsatisfactory it might be[.]" State v. Stocker, 90 Hawai'i 85, 95, 976 P.2d 399, 409 (1999). This is not an affirmative defense. Therefore, once the defendant raises the defense, the burden shifts to the State to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant's conduct fell out of the scope of the parental-discipline doctrine. The ICA held that there was enough evidence to raise the defense, but this error was harmless because there was sufficient evidence to negate the defense. The HSC disagreed.

Evaluating "Reasonableness." The force discipline a child must be reasonable. The HSC explained that the force used must be (1) reasonably proportional to the misconduct being punished; and (2) reasonably believed by the parent as necessary to protect the welfare of the recipient. State v. Matavale, 115 Hawai'i 149, 164-65, 166 P.3d 322, 337-38 (2007). The HSC further explained that the means used to apply the force must also be reasonable, and thus, the factfinder "must consider the child's age, the child's stature, and the nature of the inflicted injuries, i.e., whether the force used was designed to cause or known to create substantial bodily injury, disfigurement, extreme pain or mental distress, or neurological damage given the child's age and size." Id.

The HSC disagreed with the ICA because in this case, the 17-year old was "hardly a child." Moreover, the HSC concluded that the family court's distinction between a failure to cooperate and defiance "defie[d] logic." The boy stood up angrily with his fists clenched and did not respond to Roman before Roman slapped him. The HSC also pointed out that no medical attention was required. The HSC held that Roman's conduct was a use of force reasonably proportionate to the defiance and was reasonably believed as necessary to discipline the boy. Moreover, it was not designed to cause or known to create a risk of substantial bodily injury.

The Other Discipline Cases. The HSC also compared Roman's conduct to three other cases where the parent's conduct fell within the scope of the parental-discipline defense. See State v. Kaimimoku, 9 Haw. App. 345, 347-48, 841 P.2d 1076, 1077-78 (1992) (defendant slapped daughter's face, punched shoulder, and left scratch and bruises); State v. Deleon, 72 Hawai'i 241, 242-43, 813 P.2d 1382, 1383 (1991) (fourteen-year-old daughter hit above her knees leaving bruises.); State v. Matavale, 115 Hawai'i at 167, 166 P.3d at 340 (after continuously defiant behavior, mother hit her daughter with a plastic backpack, a plastic hanger, and the back of a brush). The HSC contrasted this acceptable conduct from other cases where the use of force was unreasonable. See State v. Tanielu, 82 Hawai'i 373, 922 P.2d 986 (App. 1996) (multiple punches to the face, stomping on the face, and pulling ears left facial bruises and lacerations and did not fall within parental-discipline defense); State v. Crouser, 81 Hawai'i at 8, 911 P.2d at 728 (hitting her across the face, knocking daughter to the floor, throwing her onto the bed, and hitting bare buttocks with a plastic bat left dark bruises and hurt for a few weeks).

Justices Nakayama's and Acoba's Concurrence. Justices Nakayama and Acoba concurred in the result only.


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