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Virginia assault defense does not automatically win by child discipline claim

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Virginia assault defense has its limits in arguing reasonable doubt, says Fairfax criminal lawyer

Virginia assault defense has always had available the defense of reasonable child discipline without anger by the person administering the corporal punishment. As a Fairfax assault defense lawyer, I know that the defense of disciplining one’s minor children requires a showing of due moderation without anger. Carpenter v. Virginia, 186 Va. 851, 44 S.E.2d 419 (1947). James Eberhardt learned this week that the Virginia Court of Appeals does not view as due moderation nor as lawful his practice of beating his nine-year-old daughter with a dog leash on multiple occasions. Eberhardt v. Virginia, ___ Va. App. ___ (Dec. 14, 2021). This may not be Eberhardt’s last time in criminal court over an assault charge if he sticks to his assurance to the police that he intended “’to continue to discipline his child the same way’.” Id. 

Do my religious convictions allow me to severely beat my child under the child disciplinary assault provision of the law?

As part of his Virginia assault defense, Eberhardt did not assert his First Amendment right to exercise his religious beliefs to have inflicted this much repeated corporate discipline on his 9-year-old daughter, but such arguments would likely have gone flat, in that the Virginia Court of Appeals only approvingly quoted another state’s okaying spanking of a defendant’s child “with a wooden spoon in accordance with her religious beliefs regarding discipline… as her acts caused a small bruise on only one occasion and the child never appeared to be unhappy or in any pain as a result of the spankings.” In Eberhardt, by contrast, the defendant’s repeated whippings with a dog leash left welts on his daughter’s flesh and caused her to scream (and probably left her ready for many years of psychotherapy). Eberhardt ascribed that “‘in the bible Jesus stated[, ‘]spare the rod[,] spoil the child.[’]'” If he continues with such behavior, he can be virtually assured having prosecutors and judges ascribe to having him prosecuted and punished again. Eberhardt was prosecuted not for mere misdemeanor assault, but for the Class 6 felony of child cruelty, which provides; “It shall be unlawful for any person employing or having the custody of any child willfully or negligently to cause or permit the life of such child to be endangered or the health of such child to be injured, or willfully or negligently to cause or permit such child to be placed in a situation that its life, health or morals may be endangered, or to cause or permit such child to be overworked, tortured, tormented, mutilated, beaten or cruelly treated.” Va. Code § 40.1103(A). 

Does my lawyer have to agree with my approach to teaching and disciplining my children?

Great Virginia assault defense does not require your lawyer to agree with your alleged behavior nor for your justification of that behavior, to present a great and persuasive assault defense. I myself focus on never judging my clients. Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto./I am human: nothing human is alien to me. (Publius). Your lawyer ideally will focus on working with you as a team in blunting and reversing numerous actual and perceived obstacles. It is a good idea for you timely to check with your lawyer about any evidence-gathering and self improvement steps that is needed as part of your teamwork with your lawyer.

How do I find the right Virginia assault lawyer for me?

Assault is a damning accusation. Do not be fooled by the quickness of many court trials when no lawyer is present for the defendant. It is very important that assault defendants obtain a qualified lawyer without delay. My article here addresses factors to consider in selecting a Virginia criminal defense lawyer.

Fairfax assault defense lawyer Jonathan Katz pursues your best defense against Virginia DUI, misdemeanor and felony prosecutions. Learn for yourself why a slew of Jon’s Virginia criminal defense clients praise his work and the results of his labors. Please let us know your goals for your case, and then witness Jon’s formulation of a proposed approach and strategy to pursue as much victory and justice in your case as possible. Call 703-383-1100 for to schedule a free in-person completely confidential consultation with Jon Katz about your court-pending case.