The Minnesota Court of Appeals has rejected a Fridley woman’s claim that her child abuse conviction should be thrown out because there was no proof that she physically hurt her 12-year-old daughter, despite the fact that she shaved the girl’s head and forced her to dress in a diaper as discipline for poor grades.
In an opinion released Tuesday, the court said that a conviction for malicious punishment of a child does not require proof of bodily harm and can include emotional or mental injury.
An Anoka County judge found the 39-year-old woman guilty of the single gross misdemeanor for the May 2012 incident, in which police were called by a neighbor to find the girl running wind sprints outside wearing only a diaper and a tank top with her head shaved while dozens of neighbors looked on. According to court records, the girl’s mother, whom the Star Tribune has not named to protect her daughter’s identity, said that she didn’t understand what the problem was and that she “was simply disciplining her child by embarrassing her.” The girl’s 35-year-old stepfather added that the girl had been warned several times that she would be forced to have her head shaved and wear a diaper if she did not start listening in school and getting better grades.
The mother was sentenced to 90 days in jail and was ordered not to have contact with the girl. Her husband, who was convicted of the same count, received a six-month jail sentence.
The mother contended that the malicious punishment statute is constitutionally vague and has been interpreted to apply to cases of “physical abuse” under previous rulings. However, the statute prohibits acts that include “unreasonable force or cruel discipline that is excessive under the circumstances,” Judge Edward Cleary wrote for the unanimous opinion. He added that the law has no language that requires proof of bodily harm for a conviction, only an upper limit to differentiate between gross misdemeanor and felony child abuse.
The court also rejected the mother’s argument that her conduct in forcing her daughter to run outside inhibits her freedom to act as a parent, comparing her actions to punishments such as “having a child cut off his Mohawk or making a child wear a shirt stating ‘I stole from this store’ at a place of business from which she had shoplifted.”
The situations aren’t comparable, Cleary countered.
“The extreme nature of her conduct, which included shaving her 12-year-old daughter’s head, forcing her to wear a tank top and diaper, and requiring her to run around outside in front of a crowd of people that included classmates and adults, is demonstrated by the reception this humiliating spectacle received — the gathering of a large audience and multiple 911 calls to report the incident.” he wrote. “A person of ordinary intelligence would be on notice that such an act constituted cruel discipline that was excessive under the circumstances.”