Va. appeals court upholds conviction in child punishment case

Virginia’s Court of Appeals has upheld the conviction of a father for child cruelty despite his argument prosecutors failed to prove he broke the law or showed necessary intent because “his only purpose was to discipline his child.”

James Eberhardt was convicted in Dinwiddie County, outside Richmond, for injuries that his 9-year-old daughter sustained in December of 2019. He was sentenced to five years in prison, with three years and seven months suspended.

In his appeal, Eberhardt said to his daughter, “I told you to stop talking in class,” and started hitting her with the webbed “belt” portion of a dog leash, causing redness, bruising, and linear marks on the backs of her legs and buttocks. His daughter had told investigators it hurt and she screamed and cried.

During his interview, Eberhardt told the investigator: “In the Bible, Jesus stated, ‘Spare the rod, spoil the child.'” The appeals ruling continued: “He indicated his belief that this statement was ‘true,’ and said he intended to ‘continue to discipline his child the same way.'”

Eberhardt said prosecutors hadn’t demonstrated the punishment constituted a “beating,” or proved the intent required for a child cruelty conviction.

“The Supreme Court of Virginia has recognized that ‘a parent has the right to administer such reasonable and timely punishment as may be necessary to correct faults in his growing children,” but that parent become criminally liable when he exceeds “the bounds of moderation and reason,” in punishing the child, the appeals court ruled.

Eberhardt argued his wife had only been convicted of assault and battery, even though she punched her daughter in the arm three times — he argued punching and beating are synonymous.

However, the appeals court said a punch involves a “quick thrust” of a fist, while “beating means hitting repeatedly with a hand, fist, weapon or other instrument so as to inflict pain.”

The girl’s screams of pain, and the marks on her body differentiated the wife’s crime from Eberhardt’s, according to the panel.

“The statute does not prohibit a parent from using corporal punishment to discipline a child, but it requires a parent to employ moderation in doing so,” concluded the appeals panel, in affirming Eberhardt’s conviction. “The appellant’s conduct exceeded the bounds of due moderation, and coupled with at least criminally negligent intent, constituted a beating.”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

Like WTOP on Facebook and follow WTOP on Twitter and Instagram to engage in conversation about this article and others.

Get breaking news and daily headlines delivered to your email inbox by signing up here.

© 2022 WTOP. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up