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State v. Wilder

Citation. 2000 ME 32,748 A.2d 444, 2000 Me.
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Brief Fact Summary.

Appellant was convicted of assault for physical force used to discipline his child. Appellant argued that he used justifiable force under the statute authorizing the use of force to discipline a child.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A defendant may use force that a reasonable and prudent parent would believe necessary in the same situation.


Appellant was the father of two children. He had been divorced for several years and had custody of one of the children on specific weekends. The child testified that Appellant told him to shut up and squeezed him hard enough to hurt him while they were playing a game and Appellant alleged that the child was talking too much. Appellant was charged with three counts of assault.


This appeal requires the identification of the border between a parent’s justified use of physical force to control a child and criminal assault.


Appellant’s conduct, although not condoned by this court was not grossly deviant from what a reasonable and prudent parent would believe necessary in the same situation.
A parent has a fundamental liberty interest in maintaining a familial relationship with his or her child. This right includes the right of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children including the use of moderate or reasonable physical force.

To sustain a conviction for assault, the State must show that a defendant used force in a reckless manner and a defendant’s belief that such force was necessary was reckless.


The Court ruled that the child could have been perceived as lying or talking too much as to annoy others as justifiable reasons to punish a child. The Court ruled that if punishing a child by squeezing his shoulder and telling him to shut up was considered battery, then any physical contact between a parent and child could be argued to be assault. Because there was a specific statutory provision governing the use of force between parent and child, the Court ruled that any change or deviation from that provision would require legislature intervention.

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