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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. He TIL team,please zap this comment too since it was merely marking a scammer and not reflecting on the story. Thanks, happy Monday, keep up the fine work.

  2. You just need my social security number sent to your Gmail account to process then loan, right? Beware scammers indeed.

  3. The appellate court just said doctors can be sued for reporting child abuse. The most dangerous form of child abuse with the highest mortality rate of any form of child abuse (between 6% and 9% according to the below listed studies). Now doctors will be far less likely to report this form of dangerous child abuse in Indiana. If you want to know what this is, google the names Lacey Spears, Julie Conley (and look at what happened when uninformed judges returned that child against medical advice), Hope Ybarra, and Dixie Blanchard. Here is some really good reporting on what this allegation was: http://media.star-telegram.com/Munchausenmoms/ Here are the two research papers: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0145213487900810 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0145213403000309 25% of sibling are dead in that second study. 25%!!! Unbelievable ruling. Chilling. Wrong.

  4. Mr. Levin says that the BMV engaged in misconduct--that the BMV (or, rather, someone in the BMV) knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged fees but did nothing to correct the situation. Such misconduct, whether engaged in by one individual or by a group, is called theft (defined as knowingly or intentionally exerting unauthorized control over the property of another person with the intent to deprive the other person of the property's value or use). Theft is a crime in Indiana (as it still is in most of the civilized world). One wonders, then, why there have been no criminal prosecutions of BMV officials for this theft? Government misconduct doesn't occur in a vacuum. An individual who works for or oversees a government agency is responsible for the misconduct. In this instance, somebody (or somebodies) with the BMV, at some time, knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged. What's more, this person (or these people), even after having the error of their ways pointed out to them, did nothing to fix the problem. Instead, the overcharges continued. Thus, the taxpayers of Indiana are also on the hook for the millions of dollars in attorneys fees (for both sides; the BMV didn't see fit to avail itself of the services of a lawyer employed by the state government) that had to be spent in order to finally convince the BMV that stealing money from Indiana motorists was a bad thing. Given that the BMV official(s) responsible for this crime continued their misconduct, covered it up, and never did anything until the agency reached an agreeable settlement, it seems the statute of limitations for prosecuting these folks has not yet run. I hope our Attorney General is paying attention to this fiasco and is seriously considering prosecution. Indiana, the state that works . . . for thieves.

  5. I'm glad that attorney Carl Hayes, who represented the BMV in this case, is able to say that his client "is pleased to have resolved the issue". Everyone makes mistakes, even bureaucratic behemoths like Indiana's BMV. So to some extent we need to be forgiving of such mistakes. But when those mistakes are going to cost Indiana taxpayers millions of dollars to rectify (because neither plaintiff's counsel nor Mr. Hayes gave freely of their services, and the BMV, being a state-funded agency, relies on taxpayer dollars to pay these attorneys their fees), the agency doesn't have a right to feel "pleased to have resolved the issue". One is left wondering why the BMV feels so pleased with this resolution? The magnitude of the agency's overcharges might suggest to some that, perhaps, these errors were more than mere oversight. Could this be why the agency is so "pleased" with this resolution? Will Indiana motorists ever be assured that the culture of incompetence (if not worse) that the BMV seems to have fostered is no longer the status quo? Or will even more "overcharges" and lawsuits result? It's fairly obvious who is really "pleased to have resolved the issue", and it's not Indiana's taxpayers who are on the hook for the legal fees generated in these cases.

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