Saturday, July 16, 2011

21 Year Old Substitute Teacher Charged with Child Seduction: Had Legally Dated 16 Year Old Prior to Becoming a Teacher

A friend of mine noted an interesting story over at  It raises interesting legal questions befitting a law school exam:
SHELBYVILLE, Ind. (WISH) - Shelby County prosecutors are investigating a case of a young substitute teacher who may have crossed a line with a student relationship.

Christopher E. Wooten, now 21, and a former substitute teacher at Shelbyville High School, has been accused of having inappropriate relations with a 16-year-old student. He has been charged with child seduction by a child care worker, a Class D felony, said Chief Deputy Prosecutor Brad Landwerlen, who is prosecuting the case. Wooten was arrested June 23.

Wooten was 20 at the time of his alleged relationship with the student. According to the Shelbyville Police Department's initial report, Wooten started teaching in March. The report says Wooten and the girl knew each other before he was employed by Shelbyville Central Schools, and had had a previous sexual relationship in 2010, and that the girl's mother was aware that the two were spending time together and of the age difference.

When SHS administrators were alerted to the fact that Wooten and the girl had a sexual relationship, they called police, the report says. They were concerned that the relationship might have carried over into the school.

He was removed from his position as a substitute teacher for SCS by mid-April and arrested in June after court records were filed. According to the court records, Wooten admitted to having a sexual relationship with the girl.

The maximum penalty for a Class D felony is three years in jail.

As a teacher, Wooten was considered a child care worker with a responsibility for the well-being of his students as well as authority over them. Even though the girl had reached the age of consent, Wooten's role at the school was the grounds for the criminal charges.

"The age of consent is 16 in Indiana," Landwerlen said. "Had she been 15, that would have been an additional count, and a more serious count."

When the accused perpetrator is a child care worker or some other guardian, however, the age of consent rises to 18.
Substitutes must be at least 21 years old or have at least 60 credits of college education, which is approximately 20 classes, Harper said.
To see the full story, click here.

One can't be 100% certain of the details of what happened from the story, but it would appear that the charge stems from conduct of Wooten when he was 20 and had the sexual relationship with the 16 year old, before he became a substitute teacher.  (Indiana law requires you to be 21 to teach as noted in the story.) Sixteen though is the age of consent.  His action would not have been illegal.

The school contacted police about the relationship over concern it might still be going on after he took his position with the school.  One would think it fairly obvious that Wooten's new status as a substitute teacher as of March of this year, when he turned 21, wouldn't retroactively make his legal conduct with the 16 year old suddenly illegal.

Let's say though the then perfectly legal relationship did continue after he became a substitute teacher.  The age of consent is increased from 16 to 18 when someone like a teacher is involved. The reason why is that a teacher is in a position of power and trust over students.  The age of consent moves to 18 to protect students from teachers who might use their positions to procure a sexual relationship with a student.  But Mr. Wooten already had that relationship with the 16 year old prior to his becoming a substitute teacher, so he wouldn't have been using his teaching position to solicit a sexual relationship with the student even if it continued.  Justice would not seem to be well-served by Mr. Wooten being charged with a crime.

What if Mr. Wooten were married to the 16 year old?  Marriage does not appear to be a defense to a charge of child seduction under IC 35-42-4-7.   The sexual misconduct with a minor statute, IC 35-42-4-9, makes marriage a defense to the charge.  That statute also makes it a defense that the accused had a previous legal dating relationship with the alleged victim.

My guess is the legislature probably would want the same defenses it included in the sexual misconduct with a minor statute to apply to a child seduction charge, both of which are class D felonies.  It was probably just an oversight that the defenses were not included.

If the charge is based on legal conduct before Mr. Wooten became a teacher, the charge is without a scintilla of merit.  If it is based on conduct after he became a substitute teacher, involving a 16 year old student with whom he previously had a legal dating relationship, then the Shelby County Prosecutor should use his discretion and not file charges. Mr. Wooten is facing a felony that may very well prevent him from ever landing a good job.  He may also have to register as a sex offender if convicted.   That seems a high price to pay for someone who had started a relationship which, although not wise, was perfectly legal.

Finally, let me emphasize this post is about the law and the purpose of that law.  It should in no way be seen as my condoning a 20 or 21 year old dating a 16 year old, which I think is a very bad idea.


Nicolas Martin said...

Why was his legal relationship "not wise"?

Paul K. Ogden said...

I think a 20 or 21 year old is in a far different position in life than a 16 year old. It would be easy for a 20/21 year old to manipulate a 16 year old, in general. Although you're only talking about a 4 or 5 year age difference, those are huge years at that age.

I know if I had a 16 year old daughter in her sophomore year of high school, I wouldn't want her dating someone who was a junior or senior in college.