By Erin Sherbert

SF Weekly


The question of are you or are you not a criminal if you spank your kid made headlines again today after a San Francisco jury decided that a local father was not a child abuser because he spanked his 11-year-old son for acting up in church.

According to the Public Defender’s Office, 32-year-old Allan Rivera, who has no criminal history and is described by his pastor as a nice, quiet guy, was arrested on March 15 and charged with six counts of child abuse and six counts of battery. Rivera, who has primary custody of his son, was arrested after his ex-wife called the cops to report bruising on their son.

The boy reportedly told his mother that his father had hit him on three occasions, two of which happened on March 11 when the boy refused to get ready for church, and again during services at Restauración de la fuente when the boy was caught playing with a toy, according to the Public Defender’s Office.


He also told his mom that his father spanked him with a belt in February for downloading inappropriate music to his phone.

During the four-day trial, lawyers argued that Rivera was within his legal right to physically punish his son. According to California law, a parent is permitted to use physical discipline as a form of correction as long as it does not cause lasting injury or seriously endanger the child’s health.

They also noted that the child’s mother was exaggerating the use of force, partly because the couple had been tangled in a long custody battle over their son. She reported the bruises on her son just two days after she petitioned the court to lift her driver’s license suspension for not paying child support, lawyers said.

Prosecutors never called the mother to testify in the case, nor did they present the initial taped statements she and her son made to police. What’s more, during the trial, the boy testified that his dad never spanks him unless he misbehaves, and that the spanking at church was the only bruise he had gotten from his father.

A school principal also testified that the boy’s behavior had improved dramatically since his father had won primary custody of him.

The jury wasn’t convinced that Rivera was a child abuser, and acquitted him after three hours of deliberation.

“The jury understood the difference between disciplining a child and child abuse,” said Public Defender Jeff Adachi. “This case was always about a father who very much loved his child and questionable accusations raised by his estranged spouse.”


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