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Divided court upholds principal’s conviction of failure to report child abuse

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A split Indiana Supreme Court Thursday upheld a misdemeanor failure to report child abuse conviction against former Muncie Central High School principal Christopher Smith. The dissent believed the state failed to show he had reason to believe an alleged rape was child abuse.

 A fellow student brought 16-year-old G.G. to the assistant principal’s office, where G.G. told Kathy McCord she had been raped by student S.M. in a bathroom at the school. McCord went to Smith and told him of the allegation. At the time, G.G. had been found a child in need of services and was a ward of the Madison County office of the Indiana Department of Child Services. She resided, by court order, at the Youth Opportunity Center in Muncie.

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 the YOC to get consent for medical treatment; Smith believed by calling YOC, DCS would be notified. Smith called DCS approximately four hours after learning about the incident and told the agency he wasn’t sure if he was reporting abuse.

Smith was charged with failure to immediately report child abuse or neglect. A divided Court of Appeals upheld his conviction.

At the heart of Smith’s appeal is whether he knew the alleged rape constituted child abuse, which would require him to immediately contact DCS or law enforcement. Justices Steven David, Mark Massa and Loretta Rush affirmed, holding if Smith’s mistaken interpretation of the law were a defense to his criminal liability, it would remove all incentives from professionals to understand the scope of the statutory duty.

“It would tacitly encourage administrators and other professionals to simply not read the statutes in full because, to sum up Smith’s defense: if you just don’t learn what child abuse is, you’ll never get in trouble for not reporting it. It would reward systemic ignorance in entire school districts and corporations, to the obvious detriment of the very children the statutes are supposed to be protecting. And it would turn the high school principal’s decision-making process, when faced with a traumatized child, into a Bar exam question,” David wrote in Christopher Smith v. State of Indiana, 18S02-1304-CR-297.

Justice Robert Rucker dissented, to which Chief Justice Brent Dickson joined, regarding this point. Rucker noted the charged offense requires reference to no fewer than five separate statutory provisions contained in two different titles and four different articles of Indiana Code. Rucker said the critical inquiry is whether Smith knew or should have known that rape of a minor student by another minor student constituted “child abuse.” The evidence is clear, Rucker wrote, that Smith did not.

The four-hour delay in reporting the incident was not considered “immediately” as the statute requires. The term “immediately” is not unconstitutionally vague as applied to his reporting duty under I.C. 31-33-5-1, David wrote. In addition, Smith’s phone call to the YOC was not a report pursuant to the statute.  
 

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  1. Just an aside, but regardless of the outcome, I 'm proud of Judge William Hughes. He was the original magistrate on the Home place issue. He ruled for Home Place, and was primaried by Brainard for it. Their tool Poindexter failed to unseat Hughes, who won support for his honesty and courage throughout the county, and he was reelected Judge of Hamilton County's Superior Court. You can still stand for something and survive. Thanks, Judge Hughes!

  2. CCHP's real accomplishment is the 2015 law signed by Gov Pence that basically outlaws any annexation that is forced where a 65% majority of landowners in the affected area disagree. Regardless of whether HP wins or loses, the citizens of Indiana will not have another fiasco like this. The law Gov Pence signed is a direct result of this malgovernance.

  3. I gave tempparry guardship to a friend of my granddaughter in 2012. I went to prison. I had custody. My daughter went to prison to. We are out. My daughter gave me custody but can get her back. She was not order to give me custody . but now we want granddaughter back from friend. She's 14 now. What rights do we have

  4. This sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  5. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

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