Georgia Court OKs Teacher Sex with 16 Year Old Students

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On June 15, 2009, the Georgia Supreme Court announced that it’s legal for teachers to have sex with their high school students as long as the students are 16 years or more in age and consent to it. The verdict was 5-2. While not unanimous, the decision indicates the laws banning teachers having sexual contact with students are weakened by failure to restrict the applicability to students who are not adults and also by failure to specifically state that consent is not allowed as a defense.

The case involved a Harlem High School (of Harlem, Georgia) female teacher Melissa Chase as defendant and student Christy Garcia as alleged victim. There is apparently no factual dispute that the teacher-student sexual contact did occur in November 2006 between the 28 year old teacher and the 16 year old student. The student testified that she initiated the sexual relationship with her teacher.

The court’s decision rested on how the law against student-teacher sex did not specifically prohibit a consent defense, unlike the laws against guard-prisoner sex, doctor-patient sex, and therapist-patient sex. The decision points out because no age limits are mentioned in the law against student-teacher sex, if consent were not considered as a defense then the law could be applied to imprison a college professor for up to 30 years for having consensual sex with an adult student older than the professor:

(from Georgia Supreme Court Decision in Chase vs. State, June 15, 2009, Case S09G0139 (PDF) pages 9-10)

The District Attorney’s argument that we must eliminate the consent defense to sexual assault of a child enrolled in school to avoid absurdity, injustice, or contradictory results founders on the reality that doing so would produce results at least as absurd, unjust, and contradictory, if not more so. If consent is no defense to a charge of sexual assault of a person enrolled in school, then the age of the teacher and the student have no effect on whether a crime has been committed. Consequently, a 30-year-old law school professor who engaged in a fully consensual sexual encounter with a 50-year-old law school student embarking on a second career would be guilty of a felony and subject to punishment of 10-30 years in prison. That result – not the situation in this case – would be truly absurd and unjust. But that is precisely what the statute would mean were we to accept the reading adopted by the trial court and the Court of Appeals.

Reading through the full decision, the fault for the apparent audacity of this decision seems to lie with the inability of the legislature of George to write good law. It remains to be seen if they will spend the time necessary to correct the law to be more reasonable in its application to minor children who are students of adult teachers.

It also seems open to question as to whether the same decision would have been rendered if the teacher had been a male having sex with a female student. It is common for females to receive lighter sentences for law violations than if the same offenses are committed by males. This is part of the entrenched sexism of the law and courts in much of the United States.

While sexism is perhaps the most egregious in family law cases, uneven application of the law based upon gender seems to also occur frequently in areas involving many crimes. It seems unclear how such laws can be Constitutional if they or their application violate the 14th Amendment provisions for equal protection under the law. The 14th Amendment of the US Constitution states:

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Indeed, the apparent violation of equal protection under the law is one of the arguments being made against family law courts and legislation in Tennessee. While this particular George Supreme Court decision may on its surface not have used gender as a deciding factor, that’s not the situation in many other legal cases. It’s time for American courts to stop using gender in their decisions and for legislators to be more careful about writing laws to have a reasonable and just meaning.

Further Reading

Georgia Supreme Court Decision in Chase vs. State, June 15, 2009, Case S09G0139 (PDF)

Female Sex Offenders Escape Detection Due to Sexism

Tennessee Child Custody Case Invokes 14th Amendment

Court overturns teacher’s sex conviction

Close loophole on teacher-student sex

Melissa Chase

Court overturns teacher’s sex conviction

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