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Court tosses charges related to student's MySpace page

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Indiana Supreme Court on Tuesday overruled Putnam County Judge Matthew Headley, who placed a middle school student on probation in 2006.

The student was punished for posting an expletive-laden entry on MySpace criticizing Greencastle Middle School Principal Shawn Gobert over school policy on body piercings.

The state Court of Appeals last year had ordered the Putnam Circuit Court to set aside its penalty against the girl, referred to in court documents as A.B., because it said the court had violated the girl's free-speech rights.

The Supreme Court, however, disagreed with that rationale and instead overruled the court because it found it had failed to prove that the girl's post constituted harassment under Indiana law.

In February 2006, Gobert discovered a Web page on MySpace purportedly created by him. A.B., who did not create the page, made derogatory postings on it including one that noted Gobert could no longer control her and that she would wear her piercings as she wished.

The state filed a delinquency petition the following month, alleging that A.B.'s acts would have been harassment, identity deception and identity theft if committed by an adult. The juvenile court dropped most of the charges but found A.B. to be a delinquent child and placed her on nine months of probation. Judge Headley ruled the comments were obscene.

The court noted that a key post appeared in a private section of a MySpace site that was not intended to be viewed by the public, but only by friends who had been invited by the user. Gobert was able to view it only after gaining access from another student who had created the site.

A.B. therefore had no reason to expect that Gobert would see her post, the high court said in its eight-page ruling.

Another post that led to the penalty appeared in a more public area of the site, but the Supreme Court said the content indicated that it was intended as legitimate communication, which meant it could not be construed as harassment under state law.

In the May 13 decision, the Indiana State Court ruled for the student, but on different grounds. They said the student's message on the fake page was not truly directed at Gobert because he was not on authorized by the MySpace site to view it.

The court also said that the vulgar MySpace group created by A.B. was accessible to the general public and there was a reasonable expectation that it would come to the principal's attention. But, under Indiana's harassment statute, a person breaks the law only by communicating a message with "the intent to harass, annoy, or alarm another person but with no intent of legitimate communication."

"The consent of the posting presents strong evidence that A.B. intended her 'group' page as legitimate communication of her anger and criticism of the disciplinary action of Gobert and the Greencastle Middle School against her friend, the creator of the private profile," the ruling said.

The court also said, "We also observe that it is even more plausible that A.B., then 14 years old, merely intended to amuse and gain approval or notoriety from her friends, and/or to generally vent anger for her personal grievances."


Comments
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I have not seen what A.B. posted on "My Space", so cannot say whether it was obscene or not. However, this is a perfect example of "out of control" students today. Teachers and administrators (and, many times, other students) take all sorts of abuse but cannot really do anything about it. The parents of A.B. (and others who do this kind of thing) should be ashamed and discipline their children. Today, though, they support their children's bad behavior and sue. What a sad state of affairs.

-- Posted by not gullible on Sat, May 17, 2008, at 9:00 AM

I also have not seen what was posted by A.B. but I don't have to see it to know that in the United States we have the right to free speech. The posting was not meant for public viewing. It was to be seen only by her friends. She did not mean for it to be seen by Gobert. Venting her anger in this way was much better than the other ways in which she could have done it. She could have taken a gun to school.

-- Posted by cloverlady on Sat, May 17, 2008, at 10:35 AM

Dear "not gullible."

You state that you have not seen what she wrote. But two reviewing courts, including the highest court in the state, did and found them to be respectively: 1) Protected speech and, 2) Not a violation as the statute is written. But you, not having seen the comments, say it is an example of "out of control" students. Would you mind explaining why an opinion formed upon that basis should receive any consideration? And for the record, the student and the parents are all very nice,courageous people to whom the community owes a debt for protecting the Constitution rights of everyone. Finally, no thoughts about "out of control" administrators and prosecutors who do not understand the law and the rights of the people? Now there is a real problem.

-- Posted by reckman on Sat, May 17, 2008, at 11:08 AM

Dear Reckman, I guess we all have different interpretations of "nice people." If any educator did what A.B. did, his/her career would be over.

-- Posted by whatweretheythinking on Sun, May 18, 2008, at 7:58 AM

"Finally, no thoughts about "out of control" administrators and prosecutors who do not understand the law and the rights of the people? Now there is a real problem."

AMEN!!!!!

-- Posted by MotherOfTwo on Mon, May 19, 2008, at 7:59 AM

I cannot believe this story! What a waste of time and what trauma this person has been put through. Writing, in any form, is a great way to vent any frustrations... the fact that it was not made a public posting shows that this girl just wanted to get an issue that was bothering her off her chest. If there were no threats; leave it alone!! Maybe we should go in her room and read her diary, too.

-- Posted by greengirl44 on Mon, May 19, 2008, at 12:49 PM

sticks and stones..........I'd like to know what school facilty members talk about on their lunch break....bet you they have their pics of the litter to shame to one another.

-- Posted by Carlas_35 on Mon, May 19, 2008, at 10:32 PM

It's spelled "faculty."

-- Posted by whatweretheythinking on Tue, May 20, 2008, at 4:20 AM

For the record, and to whom it may concern, or whomever thinks it concerns them, etc.

The child was punished at home, as she should have been. The issue is whether this is a criminal matter. Repeatedly it has been proven that it is not. Perhaps if more people were concerned with what was happening in their own homes we could at last live in a peaceful world. Thanks.

-- Posted by peachsac on Wed, May 21, 2008, at 3:02 AM

Is it really news Headley was reversed by two different courts for two different reasons? Why would you expect anything different on a decision from his court?

-- Posted by gingb2 on Wed, May 21, 2008, at 9:31 PM

i believe that what the girl did was not wrong, she merely just stated her opinion on how she felt about the schools policy, i do not see any reason to make it into a huge story whatsoever. what i do believe is that everyone has a right to their opinion, be it in a diary or online in public view, its freedom of speech and i see no policy or law saying you can not say what you think..

-- Posted by merely here on Thu, May 22, 2008, at 12:14 PM

Does anyone know what the specific terms of A.B.'s probation were? Did she have to complete some community service hours, spend any time in juvenile detention, write a letter of apology to Mr. Gobert, etc?

I am writing a book about teens and cyberbullying and want to include A.B.'s story. I'll also add it to my teen-law website, www.askthejudge.info/

Thanks for your assistance.

-- Posted by tomj on Tue, Nov 25, 2008, at 2:59 PM


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