Indiana Supreme Court Clarifies Requirement of “Immediate” Reporting in Cases of Suspected Child Abuse or Neglect

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In a split decision, the Indiana Supreme Court upheld the conviction of a high school principal who failed to immediately report allegations of child abuse after receiving information that a minor student had been raped by another student of the same age. The principal was convicted at the trial court level but the Court of Appeals overturned the conviction.  The Indiana Supreme Court reversed and ruled that the evidence was sufficient to show that the principal’s four (4) hour wait to call the child abuse hotline after learning of the alleged rape violated the statute requiring “immediate” reporting of child abuse.

The critical issue in this case was the court’s interpretation of “immediately” as it is used in Indiana Code Section 31-33-5-1.  Citing ordinary dictionary definitions and legislative intent, the Indiana Supreme Court conclude “immediately” means without any intermediate intervention or appreciable delay. In upholding the conviction, the Indiana Supreme Court evaluated (1) the identity of the person to whom the victim reports abuse; (2) the impact of any delay in reporting the abuse to the authorities might have on evidence of the alleged crime; (3) the length of time between the victim's report and the report to the authorities; and (4) the circumstances of any delay in reporting.  In support of its decision, the Indiana Supreme Court noted that although the principal began an investigation into the allegations, he also engaged in a number of other, unrelated, administrative activities prior to any report being made. 

This ruling has clear application beyond a school setting and impact those in the medical and mental health community who may become privy to this information during treatment with patients and clients.  While the desire to conduct a preliminary investigation into the veracity of reports or allegations of child abuse or neglect is understandable, those whose duty to report are trigged by receipt of this information delay making an immediate report at their own peril, even where an underlying crime may not ultimately be charged.

Smith v. State, 18S02-1304-CR-297, 2014 WL 1258337 (Ind. Mar. 27, 2014)

If you would like more information, please contact Joshua D. Hague.