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Ind. high court: Girl's MySpace post wasn't harassment

By The Associated Press
05.14.08

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Supreme Court yesterday overruled a judge who had placed a middle school student on probation for posting an expletive-laden MySpace entry criticizing her principal 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 lower court had violated the girl's free-speech rights.

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

In February 2006, Greencastle Middle School Principal Shawn 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. The judge ruled the comments were obscene.

The high 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. The principal 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 in A.B. v. State of Indiana.

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.

The Associated Press left a phone message seeking comment from Gobert but it was not returned in time for this story.


Previous
Girl's MySpace posting is protected speech, Ind. appeals court rules
Lower court had placed A.B. on probation for expletive-laden entry criticizing school principal, body-piercings policy. 04.10.07

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