A Viking, an assault and Maine

The Maine SJC issued a slew of interesting opinions today, including some on my favorite topic of administrative land use appeals.  But to mix it up and be au courant, first let's talk about a criminal case, State v. Treadway, 2014 ME 124:


Today it is reported that the football player, Adrian Peterson, entered into a plea agreement for misdemeanor reckless assault for disciplining his child with force: 


That's what Treadway is about — a parent smacked his teenager around and was convicted of assault.  He argued the statutory "parental-control" defense, 17-A M.R.S. s. 106: 


He lost; the conviction was upheld.

The evidence showed that:

" Treadway got behind the victim, grabbed him under both arms, and began dragging him toward the door. The victim resisted, so Treadway straddled the victim with a knee on his torso, pinning his back against the porch floor. Treadway then repeatedly struck the victim on the head with an open hand. The victim raised his hands in defense, eventually grabbing the necklace Treadway was wearing. Treadway told the victim to let go of the necklace and, when the victim refused to do so, punched him in the head multiple times with a closed fist. Treadway then stood up and kicked the victim in the ribcage while he remained lying on the porch floor.

An argument ensued between Treadway and Murphy, and the victim went inside the house for a brief period. Then, standing in the house’s entryway, the victim said to Treadway, 'hey Dad, why don’t you stick around, the police are on their way.' At that point, Treadway walked toward the victim, pinned him against the mudroom wall, and proceeded to punch him in the face and head with closed fists.

After the altercation, the victim had a red mark on his torso that faded the following day and visible bruising on both of his temples that faded 'after a day or two.'"

The Court (unanimous decision, opinion by Justice Jabar) discusses what the requirements are for the defense – both the force used and parent's belief in its necessity must be objectively reasonable, with the belief factor determined by whether the belief "grossly deviated from what a reasonable, prudent person would believe necessary under similar circumstances."  The force must be "employed for the purpose of preventing or punishing the child's misconduct," and the parent "must maintain a reasonable degree of control." That force may be found reasonable when it results in "transient discomfort or minor temporary marks."

The SJC found that a jury could find beyond a reasonable doubt that the bruising and the teenager's testimony that his head hurt for "a couple days" was sufficient to support a finding of more than transient discomfort or minor temporary marks.  The jury could also find that the actions were a gross deviation from what a reasonable parent would do, and basically, that Treadway wasn't calmly disciplining, but had "lost control of his own responses."      

Applying this reasoning to the Peterson case, my understanding is (from the internet so don't quote me) that he switched his 4-year old and marks lingered over time.  This sounds like more than transient results.  I assume that Peterson wasn't out of control (as a big football player, the child could have ended up smooshed.)

Could the jury in Peterson's case have found that the parental control defense did apply?  It sounds like we won't find out.  But this is one of those contexts, I think, that shows how important the jury system may be.  I mentioned recently that the shrinking number of jury cases has its downsides.  When dealing with community standards, like this, it seems that the option of going to a jury is particularly important as a societal value.   





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