San Francisco, CA — A father who spanked his 11-year-old son with a belt for misbehaving in church was acquitted today of child abuse charges, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced.
Jury members deliberated less than three hours before finding San Francisco resident Allan Rivera, 32, not guilty of six counts of child abuse and six counts of battery, all misdemeanors. Rivera, a legal resident with no criminal history, faced three years in jail if convicted, said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Kevin Mitchell.
Rivera, who has primary custody of his son, was arrested March 15 after his former wife called police to report bruising on the boy. The child told his mother that his father had spanked him with a belt on three occasions. The boy said his father struck him twice on March 11 – first for refusing to get ready for church and again during the service for playing with a toy instead of paying attention. He also said his father spanked him with the belt sometime in February for downloading inappropriate music to his phone.
During the four day trial, Mitchell argued that Rivera was within his legal right to physically discipline his son and that the boy’s mother had an incentive to exaggerate the force he used. Rivera and his ex-wife are embroiled in a long-standing custody and child support dispute. She reported the bruises two days after she petitioned the court to lift her driver’s license suspension for non-payment of child support.
Prosecutors chose not to call the boy’s mother to the stand or present the initial taped statements she and the boy made to police – only the video statement the child made several days later. During the trial, the child testified that his father never spanks him unless he misbehaves and that the incident at church was the only time he was bruised by his father.
A school principal testified that the boy’s behavior had markedly improved since his father won primary custody and the family’s pastor testified that Rivera was an honest and peaceful man.
The law states that a parent may use physical discipline as a form of correction as long as it does not cause lasting injury or seriously endanger the child’s health.
“Mr. Rivera believed he was providing reasonable guidance and correction as a father. The law allows a parent to determine the force of physical discipline based on the circumstances,” Mitchell said.
Adachi said the jury came to the right decision.
“The jury understood the difference between disciplining a child and child abuse,” Adachi said. “This case was always about a father who very much loved his child and questionable accusations raised by his estranged spouse.”