The Appellate Group

Bountiful City v. Baize

Bountiful City v. Baize, 2021 UT 9 (Pearce, J.)

Criminal Law

Four-year-old Son threw multiple tantrums, one of which included hitting Grandmother. After trying several types of non-physical discipline, Father spanked Son three times, leaving bruises on Son. The city charged Father with child abuse. At trial, the city argued that Son’s behavior did not matter, only whether Father bruised Son. The court convicted Father. The Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction. The Utah Supreme Court reversed, holding:

  • A defense to child abuse is if the act was “reasonable discipline and management of a child.” Utah Code § 76-5-109. Although the State carries the ultimate burden of disproving the defense, the defendant must first put the defense at issue by presenting evidence that the discipline was both reasonable and resulted in non-serious physical injury. Courts are not required to review a set of common-law factors when deciding whether discipline is reasonable, but whether discipline is reasonable is highly fact-dependent and should be supported by detailed findings.
  • The district court did not analyze whether Father’s actions constituted reasonable discipline; rather, the district court seemed to agree with the city’s incorrect argument that Son’s behavior did not matter in the analysis and that once Father left a mark on Son, Father was guilty. But the State bears the burden of establishing beyond a reasonable doubt that the act did not constitute reasonable discipline. Accordingly, the case is remanded.

Read the full court opinion