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COA reverses former principal’s conviction for failing to immediately report student’s alleged rape

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A split Indiana Court of Appeals decided Wednesday that former Muncie Central High School principal Christopher Smith’s Class B misdemeanor conviction for failure to immediately report child abuse or neglect should be tossed out.

In November 2010, 16-year-old high school student G.G. reported to school officials that she had been raped in a bathroom by 16-year-old student S.M. Smith and other school leaders decided to investigate the claim before alerting police or the Department of Child Services because G.G. had allegedly previously faked a seizure and they did not want to ruin S.M.’s reputation.

The school immediately called G.G.’s guardian Youth Opportunity Center, as G.G. was placed there years earlier by DCS, so they could get consent for medical treatment. Smith believed by contacting YOC, DCS would also be notified. G.G. was taken to the hospital and evidence showed sexual contact. Smith called DCS approximately four hours after learning about the incident and told the agency he wasn’t sure if he was reporting abuse.

S.M. initially denied the claim, then said the sex was consensual, but eventually confessed to raping the teen.

Police initially investigated Smith for obstruction of justice, but later charged him with failure to immediately report child abuse or neglect. He was convicted as charged and on appeal argued that he and the other administrators involved didn’t think the incident involved child abuse since it was between two teenagers.

Judges Elaine Brown and L. Mark Bailey reversed in Christopher Smith v. State of Indiana, 18A02-1204-CR-331, pointing to evidence that Smith had another administrator contact YOC, which immediately contacted DCS. They also found that a reasonable investigation into the claim made in good faith of such an allegation before making the report is not improper and doesn’t deprive Smith of statutory immunity.

Judge Nancy Vaidik argued in her dissent that Smith had reason to believe G.G. was a victim of child abuse and failed to immediately report it. She didn’t accept Smith’s claim he notified DCS immediately by virtue of the call to the YOC or the majority’s decision that permits verification of a child’s allegations of abuse before making a report.

“I believe such a verification process is contrary to statute and, if permitted, may have the highly undesirable result of suppressing or deterring reports of abuse,” she wrote.

 

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  1. Your article is a good intro the recent amendments to Fed.R.Civ.P. For a much longer - though not necessarily better -- summary, counsel might want to read THE CHIEF UMPIRE IS CHANGING THE STRIKE ZONE, which I co-authored and which was just published in the January issue of THE VERDICT (the monthly publication of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association).

  2. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  3. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  4. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  5. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

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