Monday, September 2, 2013

COA Rules a Teacher is a Teacher, No Matter the Time of Year

Bay City Central High School
Earlier this past week, the Michigan Court of Appeals decided the issue of whether a substitute teacher can be tried for criminal sexual conduct with a student when the alleged acts occur in the summertime when school is not in session.  In People v Heidi Leanne Lewis, Docket No. 310949, a per curiam opinion, the Court held that the fact the teacher was not technically in a position of authority over the student at the time of the alleged acts, the Bay County Circuit Court's decision to dismiss the charge against the teacher was, nonetheless, error.  The Court reinstated the case against Heidi Leanne Lewis and remanded the matter to Bay County for further disposition.

Apparently, a number of male students had alleged that Ms. Lewis had engaged with them in sexual acts that occurred during the summer months.  According to the Associated Press, Lewis taught British Literature in a special education class at Bay City Central High School early in 2010. Prosecutors said she had sex with three of her male students that summer. Prosecutors say the trysts did not take place on school property.  The charges were dismissed by Judge Kenneth Schmidt in June, 2012, after the second mistrial.  The court held that the charges should be dismissed because Ms. Lewis was not a contractual employee of the district during the summer months.

The Court of Appeals, however, reversed after a lengthy legislative intent analysis on the meaning of the word "is."  The CSC 3rd statute, MCL 750.520d, states that a person is guilty of CSC in the 3rd degree if the complainant is between 16 and 18, and the defendant "is" a teacher.  The Court found that the dictionary definition of "is" is "be", and "be" means "to occupy a place or position."  The statute does not articulate any time frame in which the act is to have occurred, and the Court reasoned, "Consequently, if a sexual penetration occurs by a substitute teacher after the school bell rings, or on a Saturday, or during the summer prosecution pursuant to MCL 750.520d(1)(e)(i) is not foreclosed."  As long as the defendant occupies the place or position of a substitute teacher and the complainants meet the statutory definition, the defendant may be convicted of the offense.

The Court pointed out that the prosecution's brief failed to conform to the court rules (the prosecution submitted only cross examination of some of the witness testimony), and, I would suspect, had the defendant complained of the deficiencies the Court would have stricken the brief.  However, because their ruling was not very fact specific, and the defendant failed to object, the Court reasoned they had enough facts from the sparse transcripts submitted to rule on the issue.

The prosecution was represented on appeal by Sylvia Linton and the defense by Courtney Thom of Midland.