ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT:
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE:
ROBERT D. KING, JR.
Attorney General of Indiana
NICOLE M. SCHUSTER
Deputy Attorney General
COURT OF APPEALS OF INDIANA
STATE OF INDIANA,
APPEAL FROM THE MARION SUPERIOR COURT
The Honorable Danielle Gaughan, Commissioner
Cause No. 49G16-0602-FD-022935
May 17, 2007
OPINION - FOR PUBLICATION
BAKER, Chief Judge
Appellant-defendant Sophia Willis appeals her conviction for Battery on a Child, 1 a
class A misdemeanor, arguing that the evidence is insufficient to support the verdict. Finding
no error, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.
Willis has a son, J.J., who was eleven years old at the time of the incident at issue
herein. On February 3, 2006, J.J.’s fifth grade teacher discovered him giving a bag of
women’s clothes—which he had stolen from Willis—to a classmate. The teacher confiscated
the clothing and called Willis at work. After thinking about the situation for a couple of
days, on February 5, 2006, Willis told J.J. to go into his room, drop his pants, and put his
hands on his bunk bed. She then angrily whipped him approximately seven times with a belt
or extension cord. J.J. tried to ward off the blows with his arm, resulting in three to four lashshaped bruises on his left arm and left thigh.
On February 6, 2006, J.J., who was still sore, asked his teacher if being whipped with
an extension cord was child abuse and requested to see the school nurse. The nurse observed
bruises on J.J.’s left arm and left thigh. After learning that J.J. was afraid of his mother, the
nurse contacted child protective services.
On February 9, 2006, the State charged Willis with class D felony battery on a child
with injury. On August 28, 2006, following a bench trial, the trial court found Willis guilty
as charged. On September 25, 2006, following a sentencing hearing, the trial court reduced
Ind. Code § 35-42-2-1.
her conviction to a class A misdemeanor and sentenced her to 365 days in jail, with 357 days
suspended to probation. Willis now appeals.
DISCUSSION AND DECISION
Willis argues that the evidence is insufficient to support her conviction. She does not
dispute the relevant details of the incident as related by the State; rather, she argues that she
has legal authority to discipline her child by applying corporal punishment.
Upon a challenge of the sufficiency of the evidence, we neither reweigh the evidence
nor judge the credibility of witnesses. McHenry v. State, 820 N.E.2d 124, 126 (Ind. 2005).
In reviewing the conviction, we will consider only the probative evidence and the reasonable
inferences that may be drawn therefrom in support of the verdict. Id. A claim of insufficient
evidence will prevail only if no reasonable factfinder could have found the defendant guilty
beyond a reasonable doubt. Ritchie v. State, 809 N.E.2d 258, 270 (Ind. 2004).
To convict Willis of battery of a child, the State was required to establish that she
knowingly or intentionally touched J.J., who was less than fourteen years of age, in a rude,
insolent, or angry manner, causing bodily injury. I.C. § 35-42-2-1. Here, the State presented
evidence that Willis whipped J.J. with a belt or extension cord, using substantial force,
approximately seven times. Tr. p. 8-10, 16, 56, 68. J.J. testified that Willis was angry when
she struck him. Id. at 9. There was also evidence that J.J. suffered bruising and pain at the
time of the incident and the following day. Id. at 9, 23-25, 57-58. This evidence is sufficient
to establish that Willis knowingly and intentionally touched J.J. in a rude, insolent, or angry
manner, causing him bodily injury.
Indiana Code section 35-41-3-1 provides that a person is justified in engaging in
otherwise prohibited conduct if he has legal authority to do so. This statute establishes a
parent’s right to employ reasonable corporal punishment to discipline a child. Dyson v.
State, 692 N.E.2d 1374, 1376 (Ind. Ct. App. 1998). But there are limits to that right and
parents may be found guilty of, among other things, battery, if they exceed their disciplinary
authority. See, e.g., Mitchell v. State, 813 N.E.2d 422, 427 (Ind. Ct. App. 2004) (holding
that dropping four-year-old son to the floor and kicking him was a battery); Smith v. State,
489 N.E.2d 140, 141 (Ind. Ct. App. 1986) (holding that a parent’s ten-minute beating of a
child, involving fifteen blows to the child’s body and resulting in a laceration and numerous
contusions, was a criminal act). As we have noted in the past, “[t]here is precious little
Indiana caselaw providing guidance as to what constitutes proper and reasonable parental
discipline of children, and there are no bright-line rules.” Mitchell, 813 N.E.2d at 427.
We sympathize with Willis’s argument that she is a single parent who is doing the best
that she can, but we cannot condone her choice to whip her child with an extension cord to
the point of causing him bruises and extended pain. The trial court is in the best position to
determine what is reasonable under any given circumstances, and we must give substantial
deference to the trial court’s decision herein. Willis’s argument that her behavior was
justified under the circumstances is a request that we reweigh the evidence—a practice in
which we do not engage when considering the sufficiency of the evidence. See Mitchell, 813
N.E.2d at 428 (finding that father’s argument that his actions were justified, not excessive,
and merely parental discipline was an invitation to reweigh the evidence). We acknowledge
that this was a closer case than some of the examples cited above, but ultimately, we cannot
say that the trial court erred in finding sufficient evidence to convict Willis of class A
misdemeanor battery on a child.
The judgment of the trial court is affirmed.
FRIEDLANDER, J., and CRONE, J., concur.