6:12 PM EST, January 30, 2013
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indiana Court of Appeals on Wednesday reversed a former Muncie Central High School principal's conviction on charges that he delayed reporting a student's rape.
In a 2-1 ruling, the court said Christopher Smith didn't violate state law that requires officials to report suspected child abuse because under the law, Smith had to have reason to believe abuse occurred before he was required to report it and before administrators could try to verify the girl's claim that she was raped by a classmate in a school bathroom.
"An allegation that an individual has engaged in child abuse is a serious claim, and a reasonable investigation made in good faith of such an allegation prior to making a report is not improper and does not deprive the person required to make such a report of statutory immunity," Judge Elaine Brown wrote.
However, Judge Nancy Vaidik dissented, saying that allowing officials time to try to verify abuse claims before reporting them undermines Indiana's law and "may have the highly undesirable result of suppressing or deterring reports of abuse."
"A child is no less in need of protection from further abuse simply because his or her abuser is also a child," Vaidik added.
Other administrators advised Smith that an incident involving two 16-year-olds wasn't considered child abuse since an adult wasn't involved, Brown wrote, and a worker on a Department of Child Services hotline expressed the same opinion when officials called later.
Administrators also doubted the girl's account because she had faked an epileptic attack earlier in the school year. A school nurse said that while the girl was visibly shaken and had tears on her face, "she didn't act like a girl who had just been raped," the judges wrote.
The 16-year-old girl, a resident at a troubled children's home, went to the principal's office around noon on Nov. 9, 2010, and reported that she had been raped in the restroom. Police said she sat in Smith's office for more than two hours and was told to put her complaint in writing while her alleged attacker was allowed to leave school.
The boy later admitted the rape and was convicted and sentenced to four years in prison.
Police didn't get involved until about four hours later, when a worker from the troubled children's center took the girl to a hospital to be examined.
The court said school officials reported the girl's claim to the center within 20 minutes, and the center notified state officials less than an hour later. During the four hours police were not involved, administrators were trying to verify the girl's story, the ruling said.
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