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Legislature intended to make failure to report child abuse a continuing offense

November 16, 2012

A high school coach’s failure to report child abuse is a continuing offense to which the statute of limitations does not apply, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled.

The COA affirmed the trial court’s denial of a motion to dismiss the charges in Marybeth Lebo v. State of Indiana, 46A05-1202-CR-104.

Lebo, who was the varsity volleyball coach at LaPorte High School, was charged with failing to report child abuse after her assistant coach, Robert Ashcraft, was convicted of multiple sex crimes against a minor student athlete. In her appeal, she argues, in part, the charges are barred by the statute of limitations.
 
As an alternative, the state argued that the crime of failure to report is a continuing offense. Therefore, the statute of limitations did not begin to run until Oct. 23, 2010, when the LaPorte County Prosecutor’s Office received the investigation report from the Indiana State Police.

The court agreed. Despite the absence of the terms “continuing” or “continuous,” the statute does state that the obligation to report is not relieved until a report has been made to the best of the individual’s belief.

Writing for the majority, Judge Cale Bradford stated, “To permit an individual with a duty to report to avoid prosecution for failure to report because that individual’s failure was not discovered within 730 days does nothing to protect a child who may still be the victim of abuse on day 731 or beyond.”

In a separate opinion, Judge John Baker dissented from the majority’s view that the Legislature indicated a clear intent to make failure to report child abuse or neglect a continuing offense. He found that any intent of the Legislature is ambiguous.

“I am sensitive to the fact that if someone fails to make a report, child abuse or neglect could continue for every day that the report goes unmade,” Baker wrote. “However, we must also be reminded that the person who has ‘reason to believe’ that child abuse or neglect has occurred and fails to report that abuse or neglect is not the person inflicting harm on the child. Yet the statute of limitations does not fail to apply to those who commit heinous crimes against children.”


 

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