In Florida, the definition of battery is very broad. Of course, if you hit a person or strike them in a violent way, that would qualify as a battery without a reasonable defense, like a valid self defense claim. But the Florida definition of battery also includes an unauthorized touching. People touch other people in all sorts of ways. According to the Florida battery statute, that contact can be considered a criminal battery if the touching was unauthorized. With a statute worded so broadly, we rely on the police and the prosecutor to only make arrests and file charges when the conduct is intentionally malicious and properly serious. Of course, giving the government broad powers and relying on them to use their powers with deliberation and reservation is a scary thought.
In any case, it is rare to see the state charge a person with battery when the contact is minimal. It does happen, but fortunately it is not common. In a recent case near Jacksonville, Florida, a kindergarten teacher was convicted of battery after an altercation with a child at school. The kid was behaving poorly by yelling, throwing things and spitting. The teacher smacked the child but said she did it to try to block his spitting and throwing things at her. The child was not injured. Another teacher saw the incident, the police were called and the teacher was arrested for battery for intentionally touching the child against his will.
This case was different than a normal battery case because the defendant was a teacher. Teachers are presumed to be similar to parents under Florida law when the child is in the custody of the teacher. Teachers, like parents with their kids, have the obligation to supervise and control their students, and along with that, they have the right to discipline the children who misbehave. This includes the right to reasonable physical punishment. The criminal defense lawyer appealed the teacher’s conviction for battery. The appellate court agreed that the teacher had the right to reasonable discipline of the child who was behaving as this one was.
Like other battery cases, this issue really depends on the circumstances. A teacher can use reasonable physical discipline, but what is considered reasonable depends on the child, how the child is acting, and of course, how much physical force the teacher uses. Too much force and a teacher could certainly be convicted of battery or child abuse. Using less force in response to behavior of a child that does not warrant any physical contact could also result in a battery or child abuse conviction. But, if a student is being disruptive or violent and a teacher uses reasonable force to address the problem, the teacher should not be arrested. Of course, what is reasonable is subjective, and sometimes the police or the state can be overly aggressive in making arrests or filing charges.
This issue applies to parents as well. Parents generally have a little more leeway in disciplining their children for obvious reasons, but again, police sometimes are just interested in making arrests and we have seen cases in Jacksonville where parents and teachers have been arrested for fairly mild discipline of kids.