Massachusetts Appeals Court Rules Kicking Child in the Chest Does Not Qualify as Parental Discipline

The Massachusetts Appeals Court today upheld the felony assault conviction against a man who kicked his five-year-old child in the chest.  The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Rosa.

One January morning in 2017, the defendant was walking to CVS in Northampton with his two-year-old son and five-year-old daughter.  As they approached the store, the defendant’s daughter ran ahead and went into the store without him.  Upon entering the store, the little girl began running around and hiding from the defendant, who responded by shouting obscenities at her.  After a period of time, the daughter walked toward the store’s exit where she was stopped by a CVS employee.  The daughter said she was hiding from her father.  After shopping, the defendant waited in the checkout line while his daughter continued to hide near the exit.  Eventually she approached him and grabbed his legs.  The defendant shoved her in the chest, knocking her backwards.  The daughter again clutched onto the defendant’s legs and again he shoved her away, causing her to fall on her butt.  As the defendant was paying the cashier, he told his daughter to “get the fuck away from me.  Trust me, you don’t want to fucking be near me right now.”  The daughter ignored the warning and again approached the defendant, who kicked her in the chest (while wearing snow boots) and knocked her to the ground.  Both of the defendant’s children cried briefly before they left the store with the defendant.  A store employee called the police to report to the assault and officers located and stopped the defendant shortly thereafter.  When asked why he had kicked his daughter, the defendant responded, “I don’t raise pussies.”  The defendant told the cops he used his foot to make contact with his daughter’s chest, but he said he did not kick her.  The defendant, who weighed 300 pounds at the time of the assault, outweighed his daughter by more than 250 pounds.  A judge found the defendant guilty of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon (shod foot) and the defendant appealed, arguing his conduct was legal pursuant to the parental privilege to discipline a child.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently affirmed a parent’s right to use physical force to discipline a child, as long as: (1) the amount of force is reasonable; (2) the force is reasonably related to promoting or safeguarding the welfare of the child; and (3) the force does not cause or create a substantial risk of causing physical harm (other than fleeting pain), severe mental distress, or gross degradation.  In this case, the Appeals Court concluded the defendant had not used a reasonable amount of force and that the force he used was not reasonably related to promoting or safeguarding the welfare of his daughter.  The defendant admitted during the trial that he was not concerned for his daughter’s safety at the time he kicked her and he wanted her to get away from him.  Therefore, even if his kick’s force had been reasonable, it was not related to his daughter’s safety or welfare.

The defendant was sentenced to serve six months in jail followed by five years of probation.