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May 6, 2013

Indiana court to review rape case, online comments

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Supreme Court has agreed to review a pair of cases, one that involves a school principal’s failure to immediately pass along a student’s report of rape and the other about expectations of privacy for commenters on news media websites.

The court announced Monday it would review the case of former Muncie Central High School Principal Christopher Smith. Smith was convicted last year of failing to report child abuse after a student reported being raped, after he and other administrators spent four hours investigating the allegation before calling state officials.

A lower court determined Smith did not “immediately” report the allegation as the law requires, but The Indiana Court of Appeals overturned his conviction in January, stating that “the evidence does not show that Smith ignored the alleged assault.”

The justices are probably looking to set some guidelines on what constitutes “immediately” in the case of the former Muncie principal, said Joel Schumm, clinical professor of law at Indiana University’s Robert H. McKinney School of Law. The law has not yet been settled in state courts, he said, noting that the Court of Appeals relied in part on rulings from other states.

“In a case where there’s not clear Indiana law, they probably want to put their stamp on it,” he said.

The justices also will review The Indianapolis Star’s decision to protect an online commenter’s identity.

Former Junior Achievement CEO Jeff Miller claims he was slandered in an anonymous comment on the newspaper’s website. The Court of Appeals ruled the Star must reveal the commenter’s identity.

The high court will probably look to clear up discrepancies with other appellate rulings regarding when third-party vendors must disclose information. Schumm noted he has filed a friend of the court brief in the case.

Like their federal counterparts, the state’s Supreme Court justices do not typically comment on why they take cases.

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