As a Birmingham criminal defense lawyer, I often hear of sex crime cases that can only be successfully defended by a skilled legal professional. Occasionally, laws change to make this job more challenging. Alabama House Bill 661, three years in the making, will likely put more teeth in the laws governing sexual misconduct involving youngsters.
In fact, a rise in sexual felony cases against educators, physicians, camp counselors and other adults who act inappropriately with minors could occur if this legislation becomes law. Under the law being proposed in House Bill 661, adults with authority over juveniles would face much more severe punishment for inappropriate behavior with children 18 years of age or under.
This new legislation would greatly affect the outcome of cases like one in Hudson County. In that case, the relationship between a former Dothan High principal and a 16-year-old student may have resulted in jail time for the adult had stricter laws been in place. Evidence included phone logs, as well as text messages showing the defendant, Andrew Sewell, had told the youngster that he loved her and wanted to marry her. He had also written the girl a number of excuses for absences.
Sewell eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Had the victim been 14 years old, instead of 16, Sewell would have faced second-degree rape charges. If convicted he could have gone to jail, as well as been required to register as a sex offender upon his release.
House Bill 661 would result in serious charges and punishments for offenses such as Sewell's. It would allow adults with authority over children aged 18 or under to be charged with rape, sodomy or sexual abuse should they engage in sexual activity with those in their care. This would affect teachers, principals, doctors treating young patients, foster parents and any other adult who exercises supervision, oversight, custody or control over a child 18 years of age or younger.
As written, the bill does have some flaws, for which it has received due opposition. For instance, it currently lacks wording dealing with situations where, for example, a 19-year-old assistant manager of a fast-food restaurant could be prosecuted for having a relationship with a 17-year-old employee. Scenarios like this must be addressed before the bill becomes law, so that our already over-burdened court system does not become weighed down further by a glut of nuisance cases.
Another piece of legislation, House Bill 810, provides a more narrowed definition of what constitutes a sex crime involving a minor. The wording in this bill would make it a crime for an employee of a school to engage in sex or have sexual contact with a student of either gender, and regardless of the student's age.
Law would make inappropriate teacher-student relationships a felony, Dothaneagle.com, April 18, 2009
Sex with Students, cbs42.com, April 20, 2009