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Is Corporal Punishment Permitted in Arizona?

By Isabel Ranney and Mallory Scott 

It seems that corporal punishment has fallen out of favor among parents as the preferred way to discipline children. If the stereotypical American “Simpsons” family has moved on from spanking, choking, or otherwise making physical contact with misbehaving children, then shouldn’t millennial parents who also grew up watching the show not also choose a different means of discipline? [1]

Corporal punishment is legal in Arizona, so long as the person inflicting the discipline does not leave a visible mark on the child. Although it is legal, it is still a highly scrutinized practice that may lead to unwanted legal involvement for parents. For example, the Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS), which investigates reports of neglect and child abuse, may open a child abuse investigation if a child has physical injury or markings. An investigation can also be opened if a child indicates that they are being hurt by a parent to a mandatory reporter, like their teacher or doctor. Because of their mandatory duty to report, the intent of the punishment as a means of discipline is not relevant.

During a period of high conflict like a divorce or custody proceeding, it may be wise for parents and guardians to use non-physical forms of punishment to avoid the risk of a child abuse allegation and to minimize further tension during these proceedings. Additionally, third parties (e.g., non-parents and guardians) should never assume the role of disciplinarian, especially if they are not the parties involved in an ongoing family law proceeding. Even if acting as a disciplinarian, a parent’s significant other or another nonparental family member still may open themselves up to a criminal charge of child abuse (likely intentional or reckless child abuse, a lesser included offense, depending on the severity) [2].

In Arizona, statutes governing the physical/corporal discipline of children overlap between Titles 13 and 15, which govern criminal and educational statutory codes, respectively. While physical discipline may have fallen out of favor with today’s modern parent, Arizona remains one of nineteen states where corporal discipline is permitted as a punishment in schools. For example, Arizona permits the use of corporal punishment in the classroom and leaves it up to each school districts’ governing board to create the policy.  Specifically, A.R.S. § 15-843(B)(2) (2022) directs the governing board of any school district to prescribe rules which shall include the following “[p]rocedures for using corporal punishment if allowed by the governing board.” Physical force is permissible, even if it would otherwise constitute a criminal offense, so long as it isreasonable and appropriate.” Should the corporal punishment be deemed unreasonable and inappropriate, the teacher may face civil and criminal liability. 

The general statute related to the use of legal (as opposed to criminal) physical force and its justification states that:

“ARS 13-403: The use of physical force upon another person which would otherwise constitute an offense is justifiable and not criminal under any of the following circumstances:

  1. A parent or guardian and a teacher or other person entrusted with the care and supervision of a minor or incompetent person may use reasonable and appropriate physical force upon the minor or incompetent person when and to the extent reasonably necessary and appropriate to maintain discipline [3].”

If used by a teacher or other adult within a school setting, corporal discipline must be reasonably used within the context of additional statutes related to education, for pupil disciplinary proceedings and use of restraint and seclusion techniques. Additional guidelines for discipline/corporal punishment apply to law enforcement/school resource officers working in these settings but vary on a district and school-specific basis [4]. In circumstances without such regulations, however, the consequence of corporal punishment becomes much more difficult to navigate, especially when done in the context of ongoing family law proceedings or when used by an adult other than a parental figure.

While parents may make the choice to use corporal discipline, it is important to be aware that DCS and local law enforcement still have the ability and duty to investigate incidences of physical contact with children that cross the line. Before making the decision to discipline in this matter, one has to consider the severity of this action on their child’s physical and mental wellbeing, as well as the potential impact that an investigation or potential legal proceeding may eventually have on their personal life.


[1] Homer Simpson’s not choking Bart anymore | CNN

[2] State v. West, Unpub. LEXIS 606 (Ct. App. May 13, 2014)

[3] Arizona Revised Statutes § 13-403 (2022) – Justification; use of physical force :: 2022 Arizona Revised Statutes :: US Codes and Statutes :: US Law :: Justia

[4] Arizona Revised Statutes § 13-3623 (2022) – Child or vulnerable adult abuse; emotional abuse; classification; exceptions; definitions :: 2022 Arizona Revised Statutes :: US Codes and Statutes :: US Law :: Justia

Arizona Revised Statutes § 15-843 (2022) – Pupil disciplinary proceedings; definition :: 2022 Arizona Revised Statutes :: US Codes and Statutes :: US Law :: Justia

Arizona School Discipline Laws and Regulations.pdf (ed.gov)

Isabel Ranney is an associate attorney at Woodnick Law and licensed to practice in the state of Arizona. Isabel is a former associate editor for the Law Journal for Social Justice and was a law clerk at Woodnick Law before joining the team as an attorney. 

Mallory Scott is a 2L at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, and law clerk at Woodnick Law PLLC. While working as a clerk, she has the opportunity to work on real-world litigation, but also research topics of interest relating to the future practice of law. The practice values exploration into collateral topics that relate to families, especially their relevance to popular culture and media.

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