The Counsellor's Corner


So how do you feel about the concept of spanking your child in the 1990's?  What if it's done not with your hand but with a belt?  In late January of this year a jury in Santa Ana thought the belt was just fine.

In this matter the accused, Timothy Sharp had his jury hang 10 to 2 in favor of acquittal on charges of child abuse and unreasonable corporal punishment although there were bruises on the rear end of his child.  The prosecutor then dismissed the case.

The jury deliberated for approximately 2 days in this matter trying to determine whether or not the fatherly punishment fit the crime.  The only 2 jurors to vote in favor of conviction were a woman who said she had her mind made up when she walked into the jury room and a man who told the other jurors that he had been abused as a child.  After the deliberations, the jurors stated their belief that if they convicted Mr. Sharp, he would be deemed a child abuser for life and that HIS CHILD WOULD SUFFER, knowing that he caused this to take place.  IT SEEMS TO ME THAT IT WAS THE BELT THAT CAUSED THE CHILD TO SUFFER.

Before trial, the D.A.'s office attempted to settle this matter and told Mr. Sharp that they would drop the case if he would agree to put the belt away.  Mr. Sharp refused to do so and therefore he was charged and tried. 

In one of the most ludicrous comments I've ever heard, after the jury rejected these charges by a 10 to 2 vote and after Deputy District Attorney Tracey Whitney dismissed these charges her supervisor, Deputy D.A. Vickie Hicks, said:  "In my opinion, even though there was no conviction we did the right thing because now he will think twice before he raises a belt to the child."  What would lead Ms. Hicks to that conclusion?  Sharp was offered a dismissal if he would agree to not use the belt, he told the D.A.'s office he was still going to use the belt, the matter went to trial, and 10 jurors thought he was right.  That doesn't sound to me as if a message has been sent.

One of the jurors, Ray Popp, said after the trial that while the jurors didn't feel that the use of the belt was advisable, they believed that if they convicted Mr. Sharp he would no longer be able to discipline his child and the 10 jurors who voted for acquittal felt that the child's injuries did not warrant a conviction in this matter.  Juror Popp stated as follows:  "Parents have to get back power.  We've empowered these children with rights and they're used by the system to take away parental rights. . . we made a statement that a parent has a right to discipline."

Time out here; speaking of which, what about a time out?  How about "Go to your room?"  How about "No television for a month?"  How about "You're grounded."

What was the heinous crime committed by the child that apparently called for the belt?  He repeatedly lied to his father.  That's it, he repeatedly lied.  He didn't drive away the family car, he didn't beat up a younger sister, he didn't get arrested, he didn't knock all of the dishes off the table, he didn't strike either parent, he lied.

Obviously I'm not in favor of a child misleading his parents on a regular basis however had I sat on this jury I would have been in the minority.  This jury has in effect concluded that taking the belt to your son (or daughter) is appropriate punishment if your child repeatedly lies to you.

What's going on here; what kind of message is that?  Does Mr. Sharp think his child is going to learn anything from this other than to get the heck out of the house as soon as he reaches 18?  What was this jury thinking?  I agree with Mr. Popp that the balance of power has shifted over the last 40 years and children are much better protected than they used to be however we're talking about a belt here.  What was Mr. Popp thinking when he said the jury did this for that the child so that he would not have to forever live down causing his father to wear the equivalent of Hester Prine's Scarlet Letter?

Yes, I do criminal defense work however I am with the D.A.'s office on this one.  While I never had the belt used on me I think there are many better ways to handle a 15 year old who doesn't want to tell the truth.  Maybe take him to see Jim Carrey's "Liar, Liar."


Charlie Unger is a criminal defense attorney in the Glendale law firm of Flanagan, Booth & Unger.  Mr.Unger has obtained his doctorate in psychology and writes a bi-monthly column on legal and psychological issues.