The Volokh Conspiracy

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Free Speech

Crime of False Report of Child Abuse Includes False Report to School and Child Services Agency Officials,

not just false reports directly to the police.


Wednesday's Pennsylvania Superior Court decision in Commonwealth v. Krankowski (opinion by Judge Alice Beck Dubow, joined by Justices Maria McLaughlin & Daniel McCaffery) upheld a conviction for falsely reporting child abuse. Defendant had sent the principal and vice-principal at her son's high school an email linking to one of her Facebook posts, which alleged that a caseworker at the Snyder County Children and Youth Services Agency "subjected my son to physical and sexual abuse of his person and giggled/laughed about it. Later, Shambaugh was elevated to supervisor at Children and Youth." The recipients were "both mandated reporters, who proceeded to make a report of suspected child abuse to the Agency." Defendant had also made the same accusation in a call to the Agency. Defendant was found guilty, and sentenced "to two years' probation and, as a condition of probation, ordered … to submit to a mental health evaluation and follow all recommendations."

This, the court held, was a criminal false report even though it wasn't made directly to the police. The statute makes it a crime to "intentionally or knowingly make a false report of child abuse under 23 Pa.C.S. Ch. 63 (relating to child protective services)," and the court reasoned:

Since the purpose of the [child protective services law] is to encourage more complete reporting of child abuse and Section 6312 includes both a person making a report and a person causing a report of child abuse "to be made," we are guided by legislative intent to embrace a common-sense interpretation of the word "report" in 18 Pa.C.S. § 4906.1…. [W]e hold that the term "report" in Section 4906.1 of the Crimes Code includes 1) making a disclosure to a mandated reporter, who is required by law to make a Childline Report and 2) making a disclosure directly to a child protective services agency employee and consequently prompting an investigation….

[O]nce an individual "gets the ball rolling" by disclosing false allegations of child abuse to a mandated reporter, the mandated reporter is required to make a Childline report, and the child protective services agency is required to investigate the allegation. Thus, the reporting of false allegations of child abuse to any mandated reporter [or child protective services agency employee] has the same effect as making a direct disclosure to Childline or law enforcement…. To hold otherwise would mean that an individual could contact a mandated reporter or a child protective services agency, make false allegations of child abuse which trigger an investigation, and suffer no consequence. This is an absurd and unreasonable result.

Mathew R. Cravitz represents the government in this case.