Monday, December 16, 2019
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Teacher-student sex law in Ala. unconstitutional?

An Alabama circuit judge ruled last month that the law that prohibits school employees from having sex with students under 19 is unconstitutional; the ruling will likely suspend other cases in the state until the Court of Criminal Appeals can decide what statewide impact the ruling should have, reports.

The age of consent in Alabama is 16, but in cases where the older person has a position of authority over the younger person, the age of consent is automatically 18. If the older person works at a school, the age of consent under this law is 19. Except for the school-only exception, that’s how consent laws work in most states, although the exact age and the rules for “position of authority” vary a little.

An example of a position of authority might be a teacher over a student or a supervisor in a place of employment over an employee. That position of authority is the entire problem with this law, which otherwise serves nicely to keep students safe from predators in their lives.

“It is this court’s finding that the law grants these students the capacity to consent until and unless there is some showing that authority was used to obtain illegitimate or coerced consent,” the judge wrote. “If no such position of authority is alleged, the defendant must be permitted to show consent as a defense.”

For example, would a teacher’s aide in School A be allowed to have sex with a 17-year-old student at School B? Would the 17-year-old student be able to consent to sex? Not if this law is on the books, even though the 17-year-old can consent to sex with anyone who doesn’t work at a school in Alabama.

“If you have a 17-year-old high school student who meets a 23-year-old woman and wants to have sex with her, he can do that legally—unless she’s a teacher,” the site quoted Joel Sogol, a lawyer from Tuscaloosa, as saying. He has represented school employees who were charged under the 2010 law. “Why does that status of employment change that—especially if she’s not in his class, school, or district?”

Therein lies the rub with this law. Nobody is saying here that students shouldn’t be protected from teachers taking advantage of them. But the law would have a person arrested even if the older party wasn’t a teacher or didn’t work at the younger person’s school.

Eric Mackey, executive director of the School Superintendents of Alabama, said his organization supports any legislation that protects students.

“We have some serious concerns about student-teacher relationships,” he was quoted as saying. “We understand the judge ruled the law is unconstitutionally vague. And if it needs [to be] revisited, I will commit our associate to working with legislators to tighten up the law.”

I also hope that’s what happens, because the law “definitely needs some work,” said state Rep Mack Butler. “If nobody else wants to whittle with it, I’ll do it.”

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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