Child Abuse, Justice and Mercy

Judge Shows Alleged Child Abuser More Mercy Than Alleged Abuser Showed His Victim

By Ken K. Gourdin

A judge postponed a defendant’s sentencing on a child abuse charge in light of the fact that the defendant was in obvious pain from a hip injury sustained several years before. For Deseret News coverage of the postponement, see here (last accessed December 15, 2015):

http://www.deseretnews.com/user/comments/865643804/Sentencing-delayed-for-Vernal-man-who-kicked-son-7-in-the-face.html#cId_29002285.

I commented:

I don’t doubt that the male defendant in this case was in pain during the hearing, nor that his injury is longstanding (I have no reason to doubt the reporting on the matter). One would think that these experiences would sensitize him to the prospect of inflicting injury and pain on other people, particularly when those people are as vulnerable as young children are. The fact that, apparently, his own experiences with pain have not done so is very troubling.

The article does not state the offense with which the man was charged, but Utah Code Annotated, Title 76, Chapter 5, Section 109 is the state’s child abuse statute. Subsection 2 reads as follows:

(2) Any person who inflicts upon a child serious physical injury or, having the care or custody of such child, causes or permits another to inflict serious physical injury upon a child is guilty of an offense as follows:
(a) if done intentionally or knowingly, the offense is a felony of the second degree . . .

A second-degree felony in Utah is punishable by anywhere from one to ten years in prison. The man’s prior injury and resulting limitations complicate the prospect of incarcerating him for an extended period of time, especially given the fact that he may well be persona non grata even among his fellow inmates and may be unhousable in the general population, given the nature of his offense. Any sympathy I might feel for him in that regard, however, is severely limited.

The sadist in me says that if I were the judge, I would’ve told this man, “I don’t care how much pain you’re in: you’ll stand in front of me while I sentence you, or I’ll hold you in contempt.” Of course, the judge’s postponement of the hearing was driven less by the desire to show the defendant a kind and degree of mercy he failed to show his victim than it was driven simply by practical considerations of not wanting a sentence overturned on appeal because the man’s pain had a material adverse effect on his ability to understand the proceedings against him and to participate in his defense.

Of course, there would have been a sort of poetic, cosmic justice at work if the man’s injury had resulted somehow while he was kicking his young victim in the face—if, say, he’d lost his balance and had fallen, thus injuring his hip. I don’t support corporal punishment of any kind, but at least there’s a certain logic to it. If nothing else, fear of such punishment might cause someone subject to it to modify his behavior so as to avoid it.

Here, though, the tepid rationale I offer above for corporal punishment seems to be completely lacking. Whipping someone as punishment, for example, is one thing; kicking him in the face is entirely another. There seems to be an element of sadism involved in the latter that makes it a special case.

If this man’s parenting skills are lacking simply because he attempted to discipline in the same way he, himself, was disciplined as a child, at some point, someone who finds himself caught in that cycle has to stand up and say, “It was wrong when my parents did it to me, and that’s tragic, but it would be just as wrong if I were to do it to my child, so I am where it ends.”

Sadly, many parents who find themselves in that situation are not self-aware enough, or don’t have the other tools necessary, to do that.

Fortunately for this man, ultimate justice lies in the hands of Someone who is far more capable of considering and of balancing all relevant factors when deciding his ultimate punishment, and of perfectly balancing justice and mercy, than you are, than I am, or even than the (no doubt very wise) judge in this case is. Nonetheless, the Holy Bible’s Matthew 18:6 does come to mind.

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About kenngo1969

Just as others must breathe to live, I must write. I have been writing creatively almost ever since I learned to write, period! I have written fiction, book- and article-length nonfiction, award-winning poetry, news, sports, features, and op-eds. I hope, one day, to write some motivational nonfiction, a decent-selling novel, a stage play, and a screen play.
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