News reports of high school teachers engaging in illicit acts with underage
students are becoming almost routine and regular nowadays. The advent
of modern smartphones, the prevalence of texting,
Snapchat, and the rise of social media platforms have perhaps facilitated these
problematic relationships. Regardless, a teacher accused of having engaged
in such inappropriate relationships faces a potential litany of terrible
consequences including permanent criminal convictions, sex offender registration,
public humiliation and vilification, loss of career and professional licensure,
and civil lawsuits for damages. It is thus absolutely critical that those
educators accused of such crimes retain competent counsel to guide them
through these minefields.
A typical serious charge in these scenarios is Rape in the Third Degree
(Penal Law Section 130.25). That charge makes it a Class E felony for
a person over the age of twenty-one years to engage in sexual intercourse
with another person less than seventeen years old. This is a strict liability
crime and there is no need for the prosecutor to demonstrate any forcible
compulsion on the part of the elder person.
A conviction for this charge - sometimes referred to as "statutory
rape" - carries serious potential jail sentences and mandatory registration
as a sex offender. Similarly, Criminal Sexual Act in the Third Degree (Penal Law Section
130.40) makes it a Class E felony for a person older than twenty-one
to engage in oral or anal sexual contact with a person under the age of
Rape in the Second Degree (Penal Law Section 130.30) is a more serious
Class D felony and applies to individuals over the age of eighteen that engage in sexual intercourse with
people younger than fifteen years old, and Criminal Sexual Act in the Second Degree (Penal Law Section 130.45)
also makes it a Class D felony for a person older than eighteen to engage
in oral or anal sexual contact with a person younger than fifteen.
On some occasions, the adult educators are accused of sending lewd or
sexually explicit photos, videos, or text messages to the underage students. Those teachers are then potentially facing felony charges of Disseminating
Indecent Materials in the Second or First Degree, depending on the content
of the messages (Penal Law Sections 235.21 or 235.22).
Sometimes, teachers partake of controlled substances like ecstasy prior
to engaging in sexual contact with their underage students, and in those
cases, the teachers may face the Class D felony charge of Facilitating
a Sex Offense with a Controlled Substance, in violation of Penal Law Section 130.90.
On the other hand, the victimized students can potentially pursue civil
lawsuits for damages against the school districts and the teachers themselves.
(Of course, the lawsuits against the school districts are more likely
to be lucrative because they have insurance and public funds to pay settlements,
whereas teachers often become bankrupt in these situations.) There is
no need to prove that the underage victim was an "unwilling participant"
in the sexual activity because a minor cannot legally consent to sexual
contact with an adult. A lawsuit by a victimized student against a school
district will not succeed solely because the offending teacher was employed
by the district - the victim plaintiff must demonstrate that the district
was negligent in the hiring of the teacher (i.e. failed to do a sufficient background check that would have revealed
a propensity for such offending behavior), negligent training, negligent retention (failing to discharge the teacher
after learning about misconduct prior to the basis for the lawsuit), and/or
negligent supervision of the teacher. In short, if the district had reasonable
no way of knowing, predicting, or preventing the behavior by the teacher,
then the district cannot be held to blame for the teacher's actions
towards the student. The amount of damages can be difficult to predict
but is mostly determined by the psychological or psychiatric harm that
the student has suffered or can expect to suffer as a result of this victimization.
If you or a loved one have been accused of an improper relationship with
a student, or been victimized by a teacher, you should strongly consider
contacting the experienced litigators at Galluzzo & Arnone LLP. Their team of former prosecutors, including
Matthew Galluzzo, a former Manhattan sex crimes prosecutor, has expertise representing people on both sides of this scenario, and
can advise you how to best proceed.
criminal sex act,
disseminating indecent materials to a minor,
penal law 130,
penal law 235,