Adrian Peterson: A Tale of Two Statutes

Star Minnesota Viking's running back Adrian Peterson has dominated headlines over the past month after being accused of whipping his son in the state of Texas. While his status with the Vikings remains in flux there has been no lack of debate over the broader topics at play within the case. Specifically, Peterson's legal troubles have opened the door for people to discuss their views on parenting, corporal punishment and the degree of physical force allowable. As one may expect, the public's thoughts have been varying. Some believe that Peterson must be punished while others believe that his actions are befitting of a good parent. The polarizing nature of this debate is never more evident than when one compares both the Texas and Minnesota child abuse statutes. These Statutes, while both broadly making it a crime to physically abuse a child, have very different standards for what constitutes illegal abuse. A comparison of what the two statutes allow speaks to just how much room there is for varying opinions to exist and complicates how the public views Peterson.

The statute which Peterson has actually been charged under is Texas Statute § 22.04. This statute makes it a crime for a person to cause injury to a child, elderly individual or a disable individual. The injury caused could be one of three things: 1. Serious bodily injury, 2. Serious mental deficiency, impairment, or injury, 3. Bodily injury. To truly gain a sense of what is allowed in Texas one has to look to another statute. Texas statute subchapter F, section 9.61 allows for a certain amount of force to be used between a parent and their child. Specifically the statute allows for the use of force on a child to the extent that the parent “reasonably believes the force is necessary to discipline the child or to safeguard or promote his welfare.” Simply put, Texas allows a parent to use reasonable force in order to discipline the child. The prosecutors in Peterson's case believe that whipping the child was not reasonable but the existence of this statute allows Peterson to make the argument that indeed the force was reasonable.

Looking at the Minnesota child abuse statute, several differences are noted. Minnesota Statute § 609.377 makes it a crime for one to maliciously punish their child. Specifically, the statute states “A parent…who by an intentional act or a series of intentional acts with respect to a child, evidences unreasonable force or cruel discipline that is excessive under the circumstances.” While the Minnesota statute has the reasonable force defense built into it, the Statute also makes it a crime for one to cruelly discipline a child in an excessive manner even if that force may be deemed reasonable.

One big difference is the fact that Texas created an entirely different statute to allow for the use of reasonable force. In contrast Minnesota simply puts in their child abuse statute that the force must be unreasonable or must be excessive malicious punishment for it to be a crime. Thus, reasonable force is not always a defense in Minnesota. One would assume that had Peterson committed the same whipping act in Minnesota the issue of reasonableness would not even come into play as his actions would most likely fall under the excessive and/or cruel punishment part of the Statute.

Thus, these two statutes can serve as an example of just how differing the views on Peterson can be. While some feel that reasonable should always be determined when determining whether a punishment rises to a criminal level others may prefer to look solely at the actions and disregard whether it was reasonable, opting instead to merely see if it was excessive. As Peterson's criminal case moves forward the difference between the two State's laws will become ever more apparent.

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