Friday, March 30, 2012

Arkansas Statute Criminalizing Student-Teacher Sex Held Unconstitutional

Ark. Code Ann. § 5-14-125(a)(6) (Repl. 2009) provides that a person commits sexual assault in the second degree if the person is a teacher in a public school in a grade kindergarten through twelve (K-12) and
engages in sexual contact with another person who is:
        (A) A student enrolled in the public school; and
        (B) Less than twenty-one years of age.

406px-Charles_Green02In a 4-3 opinion, the Arkansas Supreme Court in Paschal v. State declared the statute unconstitutional as applied to the criminal conviction of David Paschal, a high school teacher, for a "months-long sexual relationship" with an eighteen-year-old student.  Pashal had been sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment
on each of three sexual-assault convictions and given ten years’ suspended sentence for a fourth sexual-assault conviction.

Pashal relied upon Lawrence v. Texas as well as interpretations of the Arkansas Constitution protecting adult consensual sex.  While the Arkansas court had previously upheld the criminalization of sex by a member of the clergy who is "in the position of trust or authority over the victim and uses the position
of trust or authority to engage in sexual intercourse or deviate sexual activity,"  the court here noted that § 5-14-125(a)(6) was a "strict liability" statute that did not mention trust or authority. 

It was on this interpretation of the statute that the majority and dissent bitterly disagreed.  The majority opinion, footnote 10, stated: "We find appalling the statement from one of the dissenting justices that the majority’s interpretation of the statute condones a teacher’s misuse of trust or authority."  Later in the same footnote the majority writes that the "dissent's manufacturing" of the issue of the teacher's awareness of a position of authority "is both injudicious and irresponsible."

Essentially, the majority found persuasive the fact that the victim was an adult.  The state conceded the sexual relationship was consensual, and without more, the statute was unconstitutional as applied.

[image: "The Schoolmaster" by Charles Green circa 1875 via]

Due Process (Substantive), Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Sexuality, State Constitutional Law | Permalink

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