Associated Press, June 20, 1996

Court: Spoon-spanking marks not child abuse

DES MOINES (AP) - Striking a child with a spoon hard enough to leave marks lasting for days isn't child abuse, the Iowa Supreme Court said.

A father argued that was a simple spanking and said his religious beliefs allowed corporal punishment. The state ruled it was child abuse, but the high court overturned that ruling.

"The marginal nature of the injury weighs heavily in that conclusion," the court said in a 6-3 ruling Wednesday.

"It seems to me he was bent on inflicting such an injury," Justice K. David Harris wrote in dissent. "His actions were painstakingly deliberate."

The high court didn't rule on the religion arguments, ruling instead state officials went too far in defining "marginal" injuries as child abuse. Both sides agreed on the facts in the Polk County case.

Tracey Hildreth was the father of an 8-year-old daughter who didn't live with him and was exercising his visitation rights in February 1993 when the incident occurred.

Court records said he called his daughter earlier in the day, telling her to take a bath and wash her hair so she would be ready for photographs to be taken at a church function that evening.

Arriving to pick up the child, Hildreth discovered she hadn't bathed or washed her hair. "He advised her that she would be disciplined for disobeying his directions," court records said.

Hildreth then took his daughter to his home, where he spoke with her and then struck her three times on the buttocks with a wooden spoon, court records said.

"Two oval marks red in color were observed by the child's mother a few hours after the spanking and by the school nurse on the following morning," the court said. "The mother testified that the marks could be discerned six days after the spanking."

While courts have repeatedly ruled that parents have the right to administer corporal punishment, a lower court said Hildreth's spanking exceeded what was allowed. It said parents can spank children, but must "take care not to physically injure the child."

The high court took a different view. The court said officials "should have concluded that he could not reasonably have foreseen that the rather limited striking of Amanda's buttocks would produce a physical injury."

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