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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. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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