Saturday, July 20, 2013
While this case is grounded in criminal law and procedure, the school setting here was critical in the investigation of the crime and sentence. In Walker v. Maryland, Maryland's highest court ruled that 1) a search of a teacher aide's unlocked desk did not violate the Fourth Amendment, and 2) that Maryland's statute defining sexual abuse of a minor includes precursory conduct such as writing romantic notes to a third grader. No. 13-K-10-50260 (Md. July 8, 2013).
A teacher found some romantic notes written by Walker, a special education teacher's aide, in a third grader's school desk. When the student's mother searched her child's belongings at home, 28 more notes written by Walker were found, professing his love and a desire to take the child to Las Vegas. The school principal called the police and later consented to a search of Walker's unlocked desk. The Maryland Court of Appeals found that Walker showed no subjective expectation of privacy in the contents of his desk. Although aides can lock their desks, Walker choose not to do so. The court also reasoned that the desk was in a "heavily-trafficked school setting" and labels on the desk's drawers indicated that there were items within that other teachers might need, such as supplies and utensils (rather than solely personal items). The court noted that Walker presented no evidence showing his subjective expectation of privacy.
Walker received 13 years (6 suspended) at a bench trial for violating Maryland's sexual abuse of a minor statute. Walker challenged his conviction for sexual abuse based solely on the notes that he wrote to the student. The notes were not sexually explicit. The Maryland court interpreted the child sexual abuse state to encompass "a wide range of behavior that might not otherwise be criminal," including creating a sexually exploitive relationship. The court found that Walker created such a relationship with the student even though there was no evidence of physical touching. The numerous notes that contained Walker's "passionate and obsessive comments" were enough to establish exploitation under the statute.