Parent Convicted for Publicly Humiliating 12-Year-Old as Punishment for Getting an “F”

From State v. Broten (Minn. Ct. App. Sept. 3, 2013) (some paragraph breaks added), which upholds the conviction:

In May 2012, officers from the Fridley Police Department were dispatched to a townhome in Fridley to investigate a report of a girl with a shaved head being forced to run outside wearing a diaper. An individual had called 911 to report that S.C.C., who was twelve years old, had been outside for over 30 minutes wearing only a diaper and a tank top. The individual also reported that S.C.C. was being disciplined for receiving an “F” on her report card and that her parents had shaved her head as part of the punishment.

When officers arrived at the townhome, approximately 30 to 50 people, including several adult men and teenage boys, had gathered to watch S.C.C. S.C.C.’s head had been shaved recently, and she was crying hysterically.

S.C.C.’s mother, appellant Stephanie Ann Broten, told officers that she did not understand what the problem was and that she was simply disciplining her child by embarrassing her. Appellant’s husband stated that S.C.C. had been warned several times that she would be forced to shave her head and wear a diaper if she did not start listening in school and getting better grades.

S.C.C. explained that appellant had shaved her head and that appellant’s husband had forced her to put on the diaper. S.C.C. also stated that she had been forced to go outside and run to the basketball court and back; that she had done that five times before the officers arrived; that one of her classmates from school had seen her and was calling her name while she was running; and that she told her classmate to leave her alone….

“A parent, legal guardian, or caretaker 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 is guilty of malicious punishment of a child….” Minn.Stat. § 609.377, subd. 1. The offense is classified as a gross misdemeanor “[i]f the punishment results in less than substantial bodily harm.” Id., subd. 2.

“Substantial bodily harm” is defined as “bodily injury which involves a temporary but substantial disfigurement, or which causes a temporary but substantial loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ, or which causes a fracture of any bodily member.” Minn.Stat. § 609.02, subd. 7a (2010). “Cruel” is defined as “[c]ausing or characterized by severe pain, suffering, or distress.” The American Heritage Dictionary 437 (5th ed.2011). [The court concludes, based on this, that conviction for violation of subdivision 1 does not require proof of any bodily harm. -EV] …

Appellant argues that “a huge amount of parenting conduct” can be proscribed if a conviction under the statute does not require proof of bodily harm, including 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.” She also contends that “this statute would capriciously not apply to certain acts such as cruelly requiring your child to do something deeply embarrassing but doing so only for personal satisfaction and not discipline.”

She further suggests that “if force and discipline are divorced from a standard of harm[,] a reasonable person would not be given notice of what was prohibited because an ambiguous standard of cruelty that was excessive under the circumstances would be the only measure without regard to any harm done.” Appellant’s arguments link the determination of what is “excessive under the circumstances” to what level of harm results, arguing that conduct is only excessive if it causes a certain degree of bodily harm.

Appellant fails to apply her arguments to the facts of the case here. She admitted to officers that her conduct was meant to discipline S.C.C. 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. A person of ordinary intelligence would be on notice that such an act constituted cruel discipline that was excessive under the circumstances.

Appellant also argues that the statute allows for arbitrary enforcement based on an arresting officer’s beliefs about punishment. Appellant contends that “[o]ne could imagine a police officer arresting someone for cruelly berating the child in a public place. If a jury decided it was excessive, that parent could be convicted even if the punishment was ultimately beneficial for the child.”

In contrast to appellant’s hypothetical situation, where enforcement may depend on an arresting officer’s beliefs about punishment, here more than one individual reported the incident to 911, and a crowd of 30 to 50 people gathered to observe the scene. Appellant does not argue, and there is no evidence in the record, that the officers enforced the statute in an arbitrary or discriminatory manner.

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