Friday, June 6, 2008

Kids better not criticize this Indiana principal

State of Indiana v. A.B.
Posted June 6th, 2008 by Matt C. Sanchez
Threat type: Criminal
Date: 03/02/2006
Subject Area(s): Free Speech, Identity, Student Speech
PartiesParty Issuing Threat:
State of Indiana
Party Receiving Threat:
A.B. (a minor)
Type of Threatening Party:
Type of Threatened Party:
Location of Party:
Location of Party:
Verdict (defendant)

The State of Indiana filed a delinquency petition against a Greencastle Middle School student who had posted derogatory and "vulgar" criticism of the school's anti-body-piercing policy on the social networking site MySpace. The student, referred to in court documents as A.B., critized administrators and created a publicly accessible group entitled "Fuck Mr. Gobert and GC Schools." The state's claims included harassment and identity deception, the latter arising from A.B.'s creation of a fake MySpace account for Gobert, the principal of Greencastle Middle School.

On June 27, 2006, the juvenile court declared A.B. a "delinquent child" and placed her on nine months probation. The court found that A.B.'s MySpace postings, if committed by an adult, would constitute the criminal offense of harassment. A.B. appealed, and the Court of Appeals of Indiana reversed the juvenile court's decision. The appeals court concluded that A.B.'s postings were political speech protected by the Indiana Constitution and that her conviction for harassment thus contravened her right to speak.

On May 13, 2008, the Indiana Supreme Court declined to adopt the appeals court's rationale and instead reversed the juvenile court on another ground. The court ruled that the dilenquency finding could not stand because the state had failed to prove the statutory elements of criminal harasssment. Specifically, the court determined that the state had not shown beyond a reasonable doubt that A.B. posted with the intent "to harass, annoy, or alarm" Gobert with "no intent of legitimate communication." It found that certain comments were not actionable because A.B. had posted them on her personal MySpace page, to which Gobert did not have access. With regard to other comments on the pubicly accessible group page, the court held that she had posted the comments as a legitimate expression of her anger and criticism of Gobert and the school, rather than with an intent to harass, annoy, or alarm.

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