Two Alabama teachers accused of having sex with students had their charges dismissed by a judge who declared the state's teacher-student sex law unconstitutional.
The judge ruled that "the cases against two high school staff Carrie Witt a teacher and David Solomon, a former high school aide will be dismissed because the law used to charge the two in court violates their 14th amendment rights". It is one of two high schools in the Decatur City School District.
Thompson wrote that, in finding the law unconstitutional as applied to the defendants, "this Court does not endeavor to absolve any wrongdoing or to excuse the Defendants". Solomon was accused of having sex with a 17-year-old. "Moreover, the court does not encourage any similarly situated party to engage with impunity in what may very well be criminal behavior".
The judge dismissed both charges without prejudice on constitutional grounds on Thursday, WHNT reports.
The key for Judge Thompson, however, was the fact that the law specifies that legal consent doesn't matter, even if the person was of legal age - which is 16 in Alabama.
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While acknowledging that in some situations, teachers sleeping with students could be an abuse of authority, Judge Thompson said in other situations that might not be the case, like if the student isn't in the teacher's class. "By eliminating the requirement that the state show a position of authority, grooming, abuse, coercion, or lack of consent, the state criminalizes behaviors outside the state's legitimate objective".
It's not yet clear how Thompson's ruling might affect other cases across the state. Witt was a history, psychology and social studies teacher, who also coached girls' golf and junior varsity cheer.
Prosecutors must prove a teacher use his or her "position of authority" to "coerce, groom, or otherwise obtain the illegitimate consent of the alleged victims".
However, the law is harsher on teachers and school employees than other citizens, who do not face criminal prosecution for having sex with 16-year-olds. Those include laws in Texas, Arkansas and Kansas.
The judge found that while there may be a gap in power between teacher and student, it "clearly does not exist between every school employee and every student regardless of where that student is enrolled".