Monday, September 06, 2010

abuse - expungement - corporal punishment

F.R. v. DPW - Cmwlth. Court - September 1, 2010

This Court concludes, based upon the plain language of the definition of “nonaccidental” and the purpose and intent behind the CPSL, that criminal negligence is the proper standard in corporal punishment cases.

While there is little doubt that the Crimes Code and the CPSL are linked in some ways, it is clear, as acknowledged by our Supreme Court in P.R. v. DPW, 569 Pa. 123, 801 A.2d 478 (2002), that the Crimes Code standard applies in criminal proceedings, while the CPSL standard applies to administrative proceedings. This does not imply that corporal punishment is barred under the CPSL, but rather that the standard of determining when corporal punishment crosses the threshold into child abuse is different in the criminal and administrative contexts. See P.R., 569 Pa. at 132, 801 A.2d at 483 (citing Section 6302(c) of the CPSL, 23 Pa. C.S. § 6302(c), and recognizing that CPSL “offers no restriction on the existing rights of parents to use corporal punishment.”) The appeal now before the Court is from an administrative proceeding under the auspices of the CPSL, and, thus, the Crimes Code does not apply.

The Supreme Court . . .held that to show child abuse in cases of corporal punishment, the agency must show, through substantial evidence, that the child’s serious injury was the result of criminal negligence. Id. at 138, 801 A.2d at 487. . . .[W]e believe the General Assembly’s amendment of the CPSL following P.R. was an effort to codify the Supreme Court’s decision in P.R., not circumvent it. . . .[T]he criminal negligence standard proffered by our Supreme Court in P.R. is now codified in the CPSL under the auspices of the definition of “nonaccidental.” The result is that P.R. remains controlling precedent, and criminal negligence is still the proper standard in corporal punishment cases.

These two statutes [the Crimes Code and the CPSL] act in tandem to create a very limited safe harbor in which parents may use corporal punishment without being found to have engaged in child abuse—one couched in the criminal world; one couched in the administrative world. Thus, an indicated report of child abuse under the CPSL may be proper in a situation in which criminal charges are not. This is what the Supreme Court recognized in P.R., it is what was found to be the purpose and legislative intent behind the statutes, and it is why the Supreme Court used the criminal negligence standard in applying the CPSL to corporal punishment cases. In this way, these considerations work hand-in-hand and create a workable statutory scheme that upholds the General Assembly’s intent to protect children and to provide parents choices in raising and reasonably disciplining their children.