In May v. State, the Georgia Supreme Court reversed the denial of the defendant’s demurrer and plea in bar to the accusation charging her with a violation of Georgia’s mandatory reporting statute.
The Supreme Court held that the teacher had no legal obligation to report the prior sexual abuse of a 16 year-old former student.
The record showed that the teacher was employed at River Ridge High School, a public high school in Cherokee County. In January of 2011, she spoke with P.M., a 16 year-old former student. P.M. had previously been enrolled at River Ridge High School, but had since transferred to a school in Fulton County. During the conversation, P.M. told her that she had previously been involved in a sexual relationship with a paraprofessional at River Ridge. The teacher did not report the abuse.
The teacher was charged with a violation of O.C.G.A. § 19-7-5. In subsection (c)(1), the statute lists several different categories of mandatory reporters, including physicians, hospital or medical personnel, social workers, and school teachers. When mandatory reporters have “reasonable cause to believe that a child has been abused,” they are required to report the abuse. If the statute requires a person to report abuse, it is a crime for them to “knowingly and willfully fail to do so.”
The teacher filed a demurrer and plea in bar, arguing that the accusation charged no crime as a matter of law. The trial court heard argument on the demurrer, and the parties stipulated to certain facts, including that at the time of the conversation with P.M., P.M. was no longer a student at River Ridge. The defense argued that because the student was not enrolled at River Ridge, the teacher had no duty to report.
The trial court denied the demurrer, holding that a teacher is required to report abuse of any child, even one with whom the teacher has no relationship. The trial court reasoned in the alternative that the fact that the teacher had previously taught P.M. would be enough of a relationship to trigger a duty to report the abuse.
The Supreme Court reversed the trial court, holding that the duty to report is limited to children whom they attend to in connection with the profession, occupation, employment, or volunteer work for which they are identified as a mandatory reporter.
The Supreme Court looked to the plain language of the statue. It reasoned that the statute requires employees or volunteers at certain institutions to report abuse because they attend to children “pursuant to such person’s duties as an employee or volunteer at a hospital, school, social agency, or similar facility.” Since the obligation is triggered as a result of the mandatory reporter attending to children at a certain facility, “the obligation must be limited to children to whom a mandatory reporter attends.” Thus, the duty to report only extends to those children to whom the mandatory reporter “attends…pursuant to [her] duties in the profession, occupation, employment, or volunteer work by which she is identified… as a mandatory reporter.”
Therefore, the teacher in this case was under no obligation to report the abuse pursuant to Georgia’s mandatory reporter statute. As a result, the Supreme Court held that the demurrer to the accusation should be granted and the charges against the teacher must be dismissed.
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