Associated Press, August 6, 1998

Court upholds conviction in spanking case
Forced discipline: Jury instructions rules adequate

WAUSAU (AP) - An appeals court upheld the child-abuse conviction of a stepfather who was accused of spanking a 4-year-old girl so hard that it left hand imprints seen a day later.

The 3rd District Court of Appeals rejected arguments from Mark A. Peterson, 37, that an Outagamie County judge erred in his instructions to a jury regarding a parent's "privilege to discipline a child."

The prosecution of Peterson centered on the reasonable force a parent can use to discipline a child without it becoming abuse. Reasonable force is defined in Wisconsin law as "force which a reasonable person would believe is necessary."

Circuit Judge Harold Froehlich wrongly substituted "intentional" for "excessive" in reading one key instruction to the jury regarding the discipline privilege, the three-judge appeals court said.

But the mistake was not serious enough to prejudice Peterson's right to a fair trial, Judge Gordon Myse wrote.

"We cannot conclude on this record that the jury was probably misled," Myse wrote. "Throughout the trial, the issue was continually and correctly identified to be whether Peterson used excessive force in disciplining his stepdaughter. The record is replete with examples."

Peterson was sentenced to a year in jail and seven years probation.

According to court records, he admitted he placed his stepdaughter over his knees Feb. 20, 1996, at their Appleton home and spanked her with his hand four to six times on the buttocks through her clothes.

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