This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).







State of Minnesota,





Steven Lynn Schenck,




Filed May 24, 2005


Hudson, Judge


Clay County District Court

File No. T7-04-2046


Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 1800 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, Minnesota 55101-2134; and


Lisa N. Borgen, Clay County Attorney, Jenel K. Wavra, Assistant County Attorney, 807 North 11th Street, P.O. Box 280, Moorhead, Minnesota 56561-0280 (for respondent)


Mark A. Friese, Bruce D. Quick, Vogel Law Firm, 218 NP Avenue, P.O. Box 1389, Fargo, North Dakota 58107-1389 (for appellant)


            Considered and decided by Hudson, Presiding Judge; Schumacher, Judge; and Halbrooks, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            Appellant Steven Schenck challenges his conviction of domestic assault in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.2242, subd. 1(1) (2002), arguing that the district court erred by holding that the defense of reasonable use of force to correct or discipline a child under Minn. Stat. § 609.06, subd. 1(6) (2002) was inapplicable.  Because we conclude that the statutory defense was not applicable and the evidence was sufficient to support the conviction, we affirm. 


Appellant slapped his stepdaughter, J.M., when she was an 18-year-old high-school student.  The night of the incident, J.M. conversed with her mother, K.S., at the kitchen table.  Appellant repeatedly asked K.S. to come to bed with him.  J.M. yelled at appellant and “smart[ed] off” to him.  Appellant asked K.S. to control J.M.’s behavior, but she declined to intervene.  Then J.M. slammed her fists on the table and told appellant “you’re a big boy, you can go to bed on your own.”  Appellant told J.M. that she was being disrespectful and tried to slap her mouth with a partially-closed hand.  J.M. backed up, and appellant hit the tip of her nose.  Appellant hit J.M. “to let her know that she can’t talk to [him] like that.”  J.M. stated that the blow hurt and felt like a baseball had been thrown at her face.  After the incident J.M. sought medical care and reported the incident to law enforcement officers. 

            At his bench trial, appellant asserted the defense of reasonable use of force to correct or discipline a child pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 609.06, subd. 1(6) (2002).  The district court concluded that the statutory defense was inapplicable, explaining “[J.M.] was an adult.  We’re not talking about disciplining a child, we’re talking about slapping or striking an adult and that’s what [appellant] did.”  This appeal follows.



            Appellant argues that the district court erred by holding that the statutory defense was inapplicable.

            Application of a statute to the undisputed facts of a case involves a question of law, and the district court’s decision is not binding on this court.  O’Malley v. Ulland Bros., 549 N.W.2d 889, 892 (Minn. 1996).  Minnesota law provides a statutory defense to the use of force:

reasonable force may be used upon or toward the person of another without the other’s consent when the following circumstances exist or the actor reasonably believes them to exist: . . .


(6) when used by a parent, guardian, teacher, or other lawful custodian of a child or pupil, in the exercise of lawful authority, to restrain or correct such child or pupil[.]


Minn. Stat. § 609.06, subd. 1(6) (2004).  When the words in a statute are clear and unambiguous, a court must give effect to the plain meaning of the language.  Tuma v. Comm’r of Econ. Sec., 386 N.W.2d 702, 706 (Minn. 1986). 

            Appellant contends that the definition of “child” contained in the criminal code, which defines a child as “any person under the age of 18 years,” does not apply to Minn. Stat. § 609.06.  See Minn. Stat. § 609.376, subds. 1, 2 (2004) (applying definition of “child” to sections 609.255 and 609.376 to 609.38, but not to 609.06).  Although appellant correctly notes that Minn. Stat. § 609.06 does not define “child,” we conclude that other, related statutory definitions of “child” apply here.  Minnesota statutes on malicious punishment of a child, neglect or endangerment of a child, and false imprisonment—which all provide that “child” means a person under 18 years of age—are in pari materia with the reasonable-force statute.  See State ex rel. Interstate Air-Parts, Inc. v. Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro. Airports Comm’n, 223 Minn. 175, 183–84, 25 N.W.2d 718, 724 (1947) (holding that statutes relating to the same general subject matter are in pari materia and are to be construed together); compare Minn. Stat. § 609.377 (2004) (malicious punishment of a child); Minn. Stat. § 609.378 (2004) (neglect or endangerment of a child); Minn. Stat. § 609.255 (2004) (false imprisonment) with Minn. Stat. § 609.06, subd. 1(6).  Therefore, the same definition of “child” should apply.  Furthermore, the child-protection statutes, which also define a child as an individual under 18 years of age, arguably cannot use a different definition of “child” than the reasonable-force statute.  See Minn. Stat. § 260C.007, subd. 4 (2004).  Thus, we conclude that the definition of “child” in Minn. Stat. § 609.06, subd. 1(6), means a person under 18 years of age. 

But appellant contends that, when it enacted Minn. Stat. § 609.06, subd. 1(6), the legislature did not intend for “child” to mean a person under the age of 18.  Appellant further argues that the phrase “child or pupil” is ambiguous and that this court should consider legislative history as a factor in determining intent.  See First Nat’l Bank of Deerwood v. Gregg, 556 N.W.2d 214, 217 (Minn. 1996) (noting that courts may consider legislative history as one factor in construing the intent of the legislature when the language of a statute is ambiguous).  In support of his argument, appellant cites a comment by Maynard E. Pirsig:

The words “or pupil” were added in clause (6) after the Proposed Criminal Code was distributed and before its submission to the legislature.  Fears were expressed to the committee that the term “child” might be construed to be limited to minors under 18 years of age, a limit existing, for example, under the Juvenile Court Code.  High school students frequently are over that age and, it was believed, should be covered by the section.  At the same time, it was felt that college and university students should not be included.  The term “pupil” was chosen as properly drawing that distinction.


Minn. Stat. Ann. § 609.06 cmt. (Pirsig 1963) (West 2003).

            Because we have concluded that the definition of “child” is unambiguous, we do not need to address the comment.  But even if we were to examine the comment, in our view it does not change the definition of “child.”  The comment identifies the problem of disciplining high-school students.  Thus, the term “pupil” was intended to apply in the school context and not to affect the authority of parents to use force at home.  In effect, appellant asks us to extend the reasonable-force defense afforded teachers under the statute when they have used force against pupils who are 18 years old to parents acting in the home.  We decline to so extend the definition of “child or pupil” without explicit direction from the legislature.  Here, J.M. was not a “pupil” under the statute because appellant’s use of force on J.M. did not occur in the school context.  Because we conclude that the statute is inapplicable, we do not address whether appellant’s use of force was reasonable under the statute. 


Appellant alternatively argues that even if this court concludes that the statutory defense was inapplicable, the state did not prove the domestic assault statute’s intent requirement because appellant did not have the requisite mens rea to commit domestic assault. 

The domestic assault statute provides, “Whoever does any of the following against a family or household member . . . commits an assault and is guilty of a misdemeanor: (1) commits an act with intent to cause fear in another of immediate bodily harm or death; or (2) intentionally inflicts or attempts to inflict bodily harm upon another.”  Minn. Stat. § 609.2242, subd. 1 (2004).  The district court found appellant guilty of domestic assault because he “intentionally inflicted bodily harm upon [J.M.] when he slapped her on the nose, with the purpose of causing her pain.” 

Appellant argues that the “purpose of [his] disciplinary action was not to produce harm, but was to correct incorrigible behavior.”  But the evidence supports the district court’s finding that appellant intentionally inflicted bodily harm on J.M. when he slapped her nose because appellant admitted that he slapped J.M.  Appellant asserts a motive for hitting J.M., but, regardless of his motive, his intent was to inflict bodily harm or the fear of immediate bodily harm.  Accordingly, the evidence is sufficient to support the conviction.