Tales from the [Criminal] Trenches


Public figures involved in physical discipline of their children have recently been in the news.  Jan Olson, our criminal defense attorney, just went to jury trial where the uncontroverted facts were that our client spanked his 7 year old son on the bottom with a belt.

Our client was initially investigated for felony assault for this spanking.  Supposedly, the child complained of the spanking after coming home from visitation ordered under a parenting plan.  Our client’s relationship with the mother ended several years ago, but animosity remained and was sometimes experienced during visitation exchanges.  The mother took cell phone photos of the child’s bottom, showing slight redness and discoloration.  The mother never bothered to talk with the father about the spanking.  If she had, she would have learned the child destroyed property and hit another child.  Spanking was a last resort when time-outs and other discipline were unsuccessful.  The “ex” simply called local police, and got a protection order preventing contact between father and son.

The child was interviewed by a “child interview” specialist employed by the county prosecutor’s office.  After receiving a full work up from our office, the county prosecutor declined to file any charges whatsoever, and returned the case to the city police who took the initial complaint.

The city prosecutor decided to charge the father with Assault in the Fourth Degree, even though reasonable corporal punishment is permitted under Washington law.  Our client adamantly denied wrongdoing and demanded his day in court.  Trial occurred exactly one year after the incident.  During that year he could not visit his son.

Our interview of the son indicated he may have been pressured into making a “disclosure” against his father.  Our interview also revealed that the child would give favorable information to many important questions.  However, the child often had to be asked leading questions.

It was important for us to deal with the issue of leading questions during cross examination of the prosecution’s “interview specialist”.  The interview specialist admitted that leading questions are sometimes necessary when interviewing children.

The jury was then able to balance the often unbelievable testimony from the mother about the child’s complaint of spanking, with the child’s answers during cross examination about his very bad behavior, how the spanking was exaggerated, how details about the spanking had changed over time, and how other discipline had not stopped his behavior.  The child admitted the spanking was only on his bottom.

Jury was out for 40 minutes:  Not Guilty.

If you find yourself in trouble like our client did, or if you may be or have been charged with a crime, please contact Jan Olson at (206) 224-6691 direct.