Teacher-Student Sex, Georgia Law's Loophole Make Some Worry

A loophole in the law has freed several teachers who romanced their students.

Nov. 24, 2009 — -- Lawmakers in Georgia are working to close what they say is a loophole in the state law that has already freed at least two teachers who were jailed for having sex with their students.

In June, the Supreme Court in Georgia ruled in a 5-2 decision that a female teacher who had been convicted of assault against her 16-year-old female student should have been allowed to use consent as a defense in court.

The student, who was not named, testified that she had initiated the relationship with 28-year-old Melissa Lee Chase, but her statements were barred from being used during the trial. The age of consent in Georgia is 16.

Chase was subsequently released from jail.

The statement by the majority of the court said the law specifies that only certain relationships between people in authority and their subordinates – a psychotherapist and his patient or a police officer and a criminal in custody, for example – were not allowed to use consent in their defense.

No mention of using consent as a defense in a teacher-student relationship was noted in the statute.

The court also said that by not allowing consent as a defense could result in "absurd results," such as a "30-year-old law school professor being found guilty of sexual assault for having an encounter with a 50-year-old law school student."

State Rep. Kevin Levitas, D-Atlanta, says that the state Supreme Court misinterpreted the law and is now introducing a House bill to fix the problem he says could allow children to become victims at the hands of their teachers.

"I'm trying to make sure that a teacher is not able to claim consent as a defense to having sex with one of his or her students," Levitas told ABCNews.com.

Court Ruling Freed Teachers From Student Sex Charges

Levitas' bill would not allow consent to be used as a defense between individuals in a supervisory relationship.

According to Levitas, the existing law was misinterpreted to center on the age of consent rather than the relationship between the two individuals. Levitas argues that a person's consent could be made under "pressure and coercion" when they're the subordinate in a relationship.

But for those teachers who are currently charged with sexually assaulting a student, the Supreme Court's ruling on Chase v. State couldn't have come at a better time.

In the months since the court's ruling, several teachers who were charged with sexual assault had their convictions overturned, arguing that the student in question had given consent to the relationship.

Richard Dennis Whitehead, 37, had been in prison for nearly two years when the Court of Appeals overturned his conviction. Whitehead had been found guilty of having sex with one of his 17-year-old female students.

The court said in its ruling that the student had been a "willing participant" in the relationship with Whitehead and referred to the ruling in the Chase case that allowed consent to be part of the defense.

Christopher King, 36, is hoping the Chase ruling will also affect his case. King is accused of having sex with a 17-year-old female student at Marietta High School, according to his attorney Scott Semrau, where he had taught English and journalism courses for four years.

King is currently out on bond. If convicted, he would face a minimum of 10 years in prison under Georgia state law.

Semrau says he's surprised the district attorney in Cobb County is even prosecuting his client's case given the rulings in Whitehead, Chase and other cases across the state.

"If Chase v. State hadn't happened, my client would certainly be worse off," said Semrau.

According to Semrau, the student has testified that the relationship was consensual and has even talked about her desire to continue the relationship should King's trial be thrown out.

Georgia Lawmaker Says It's a Shame Teachers Allowed to Romance Students

King's bond restrictions do not allow him to contact the student until the case has been resolved, said Semrau.

"It's infinitely clear that the law provides for consensual, sexual contact," said Semrau, who said the state had "no chance" against his client thanks to the Chase ruling.

But Levitas says cases like Whitehead and now possibly King is a "shame."

"It's a shame not just for the citizens of Georgia overall but very specifically the children who could become victims of sexual assault by their teachers," said Levitas.

Levitas says he plans to introduce the House bill during the next legislative session, which begins on Jan. 11.