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New Incident of Teacher Abusing Student: Penalties for Improper Relationships

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Legal Penalties for Improper Relationships in Texas

Under Texas law, minors under the age of 18 are considered a protected class of citizens. This means that crimes which target minors can be punished much more severely than crimes which victimize adults. This is especially true when it comes to crimes of a sexual nature.

Not only are minors considered a protected group, they are also afforded extra protections while they are in school. Teachers are expected to create safe learning environments for their students. As part of this commitment, teachers are not allowed to engage in relationships with their students under penalty of law.

One recent case in Texas illustrates the nature of state laws regarding improper educator-student relationships.

The Case

In July of 2016, a math instructor at McWhirter Elementary School in Webster, Texas, was arrested on suspicion of abusing one of his students. The 44-year-old teacher was charged with continuous sexual abuse of a child after the third-grade student informed her teachers about the alleged abuse.

The teacher was placed under arrest by the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office. He bonded out of jail a few days later by paying a $40,000 bail amount. His first court date is scheduled for August 2016.

The arrest was made after the third-grade student informed her parents that the teacher had committed abusive actions during tutoring sessions. The Galveston County Sheriff’s Office recovered emails from the teacher that were sent to the student’s parents asking for permission to have the student stay after school twice a week for tutoring. The student claimed that the teacher touched her inappropriately during these tutoring sessions.

Potential Legal Penalties

The teacher in this case was charged with continuous sexual abuse of a child. This is an extremely serious charge that can lead to serious criminal penalties if a conviction is reached. In Texas, there are several different legal penalties that can be applied to cases involving an adult who sexually abuses a minor, including:

  • Indecency With A Child
  • Sexual Assault
  • Improper Relationship Between Educator and Student
  • Continuous Sexual Abuse of a Child
  • Of these charges, continuous sexual abuse of a child is the most serious. This is a felony charge that is punishable by:
  • At least 25 years imprisonment in Texas state prison and up to 99 years imprisonment or life in prison
  • A fine of up to $10,000
  • Lifelong registration as a sex offender

If the teacher in the McWhirter Elementary case is found guilty, there is a very real possibility that he could spend the rest of his life in the Texas state prison system. Teachers in similar cases may also be charged with an improper relationship between an educator and student. If convicted of this charge, they can face:

  • Conviction on a second degree felony charge
  • Confinement in a Texas state prison for up to 20 years
  • A fine of up to $10,000
  • Registration as a sex offender

While any adult who engages in an inappropriate relationship with a minor may face criminal charges, educators who engage in relationships with their students may face enhanced penalties. This is because they are expected to ensure the safety of the students in their classrooms.

Proving Guilt

In order for the educator in the McWhirter Elementary case to be found guilty, the prosecution will have to prove that the allegations against him are based in fact.

In order to do this, the prosecution could try several techniques, such as:

  • Submitting testimony from a medical expert regarding physical signs of sexual abuse or inappropriate touching
  • Submitting testimony from a child psychology expert regarding the truthfulness of the child’s claims of inappropriate touching
  • Showing the jury the emails from the teacher requesting private meetings with the student

In this case, the prosecution may also reveal that this teacher was investigated in February 2016 for allegedly inappropriately rubbing another student who was made to feel uncomfortable in his classroom. Although no conclusive evidence of inappropriate behavior was discovered in that incident, the prosecution may still use it as a way to portray the defendant as guilty.

Potential Legal Defenses

In this case, the legal team for the defendant may argue that there is no conclusive evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the educator. For example, they may argue that:

  • There are no physical signs of abuse or inappropriate touching
  • Young children may not be reliable witnesses
  • The previous incident involving alleged inappropriate behavior by the educator was dismissed for a lack of evidence

In short, the defense team may claim that there is not a sufficient amount of evidence available in this case to convict the defendant. If this is successful, the jury may agree to reach a verdict of not guilty.

Alternatively, the defense team may advise the defendant to enter a guilty plea in exchange for a plea deal. While entering a plea of guilty for a sexually-based offense is a negative thing, it may be a better alternative than potentially risking a guilty verdict that comes with a lifetime prison sentence.

With a plea deal, the defendant may be able to avoid years in prison and they may also be able to accept a lesser charge that does not carry a requirement to register as a sex offender.

As you can see, these charges are incredibly serious and carry severe consequences. If you or someone you know is charge with a similar crime, contact attorney Brett A. Podolsky immediately. Time is of the essence when defending your legal rights. Contact his office today at 713-227-0087.

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