What Is Domestic Violence?

Elements of Domestic Violence in Ohio

In Ohio, Section 2919.25 of the Ohio Revised Code defines the criminal offense of domestic violence.  There are three ways to commit the crime of Domestic Violence:

  1. Section 2919.25(A): it is a crime to “knowingly cause physical harm to a family or household member.”
  2. Section 2919.25(B): it is a crime to “recklessly cause serious physical harm to a family or household member.”
  3. Section 2919.25(C): it is a crime crime to threaten  force to knowingly cause a family or household member to believe that physical harm is imminent.

A first violation of division (A) or (B) is a first degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail.  A violation of division (C) is a fourth degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail.  Prior convictions of specified offenses of violence can increase the seriousness of the offense, and even make a violation of divisions (A) or (B) a fifth degree felony, punishable by up to 12 months imprisonment.

Parental Discipline

Often we represent clients who are charged with domestic violence for physically disciplining their children.  Parents and guardians of children are often erroneously charged with domestic violence for 2 reasons:

  1. First, in Ohio, domestic violence is broadly worded, making it unlawful for any person, even a parent, to “knowingly cause or attempt to cause physical harm to a family or household member.” See Section 2919.15(A) of the Ohio Revised Code.
  2. Second, “physical harm” in Ohio is also broadly defined to include any “injury” suffered, “regardless of its gravity or duration.”

The question that arises is this: when, if ever, is a parent able to spank or otherwise physically discipline a child?

Parental discipline is an affirmative defense to a charge of domestic violence, meaning that the person accused of domestic violence has the burden of proof to establish this defense by a preponderance, or greater weight, of the evidence.  The preponderance of the evidence standard is much lower than the prosecutor’s burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.  The following is a proposed jury instruction regarding this defense:

The defendant has asserted an affirmative defense that he was engaged in properly disciplining his child at the time alleged.  Nothing in the domestic violence statute prevents a parent from properly disciplining his child.  If you find by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant was engaged in proper and reasonable parental discipline at the time, then you shall find the defendant not guilty.

What does “proper” and “reasonable” mean?

“Proper” means suitable or appropriate. “Reasonable,” for purposes of this defense, means not extreme or excessive.  Whether parental discipline is “extreme or excessive” is determined in light of the totality of the circumstances.  In analyzing the totality of the circumstances, the following factors should be considered:  (1) the child’s age; (2) the child’s behavior leading up to the discipline; (3) the child’s response to prior non-corporal punishment; (4) the location and severity of the punishment; and (5) the parent’s state of mind while administering the punishment.

If you or a member of your family has been charged with domestic violence in Columbus or Central Ohio, you should immediately contact our attorneys for a consultation regarding your rights and defenses.  We offer a free, no obligation initial consultation.