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Arkansas Supreme Court strikes down teacher-student sex law

By Chris Freiberg

This article was published March 29, 2012 at 11:21 a.m.

The Arkansas Supreme Court has dismissed the sexual assault convictions of a former Elkins teacher, finding by a 4-3 margin that a state law criminalizng sexual contact between teachers and students over the age of 18 is unconstitutional.

A jury convicted David Paschal, 38, of four counts of second-degree sexual assault and one count of bribing a witness following a trial last year. Circuit Judge William Storey sentenced Paschal to serve 30 years in prison.

One of Paschal’s former students testified at trial that in December 2009 when she was 18 and still a student at Elkins High School, she and Paschal began a consensual sexual relationship that lasted until the following April.

Under Arkansas law, a teacher is prohibited from a sexual relationship with a student younger than 21, but the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that law infringes on the sexual privacy of consenting adults.

Arkansas’ age of legal consent for sex is 18, or 16 as long as the other party is no older than 20,

Chief Justice Jim Hannah, Associate Justice Paul E. Danielson, Associate Justice Courtney Hudson Goodson and Associate Justice Donald L. Corbin wrote the majority opinion.

“Regardless of how we feel about Paschal’s conduct, which could correctly be referred to as reprehensible, we cannot abandon our duty to uphold the rule of law when a case presents distasteful facts,” Hannah wrote in the majority opinion.

Associate Justice Karen Baker, Associate Justice Jim Gunter and Associate Justice Robert L. Brown dissented.

“Once this opinion is handed down, there will be nothing to prevent sexual contact between high school teachers and enrolled students who have turned 18,” Brown wrote. “This will cause significant disruption in our high schools and have a deleterious impact on education in general.”

Paschal challenged the state’s law about teacher-student relationships before his trial, but the Supreme Court rejected his argument without comment at that time.

The Supreme Court also remanded Paschal’s conviction for bribing a witness Thursday.

Another of Paschal’s former students, a teenage boy, testified that Paschal asked him to convey the message that he would give his accuser several thousand dollars if she dropped the charges against him.

The justices ruled that there was enough evidence to convict Paschal of the charge, but found that Storey erred when he did not allow jurors to hear evidence that Paschal’s father and the boy’s father had been involved in a lawsuit in 2009 which Paschal’s father lost.

Pashcal also pleaded guilty last year to pleaded guilty to a felony charge of first-degree endangering the welfare of a minor.

He was initially charged with second-degree sexual assault in connection with reports he groped teenage girls at parties where alcohol was served, but prosecutors dropped that charge to focus on accusations Paschal served high school students alcohol during parties at his home, then let them drive away.

In that case, he was sentenced to six years in prison with two years suspended.

Correction:The original version of this story misstated the stances of Associate Justices Robert L. Brown and Paul E. Danielson. A quote from Brown was mistakenly attributed to Danielson. The errors have been corrected.


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Displaying 1 - 6 of 6 total comments

TheBatt says... March 29, 2012 at 3:38 p.m.

Nothing is stopping individual school districts from putting personnel policies in place that impose immediate termination for all teachers who have sexual relations with a student. Age should not be the important factor here, but the violation of the teacher/student relationship.

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RonalFos says... March 29, 2012 at 8:24 p.m.

This change will not cause significant disruption in high schools in Arkansas. Brown acts like this happens every day. Sexual contact between teachers and students are very rare. Sadly they do happen occasionally but this law was overreach by the legislature to solve a virtual non-problem(cases involving 18 year olds). In all cases of improper contact between teachers and students school districts can punish even if criminal laws haven't been broken.

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DontDrinkDatKoolAid says... March 29, 2012 at 8:40 p.m.

I happens more in college more than you know. Even the very ugly and fat professors score.

( | suggest removal ) says... March 29, 2012 at 9:34 p.m.

Once again I am reminded of a quote from the old comedian Brother Dave Gardner - "Let's make everything legal, then there won't be no crime." SCOTUS has ruined the US and now SCOAr is joining in. Stupidity runs rampant.

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RaylanGivens says... March 29, 2012 at 10:24 p.m.

Having sex with someone 18 or older is a crime or it isn't; you can't discriminate based on their jobs. Like Batt said put policies in place but you cannot make it a crime if you are in a certain job. Now the bribery part is a different story, but I imagine they argue without the charge that the bribery would not have happened. Man I'm so glad I am not a lawyer, I leave that up to 3 of my college roommates.

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Que2 says... March 30, 2012 at 10:06 a.m.

Why aren't the students who willingly participates in BREAKING the LAW charged? If a student is in the car during a drive-by, they get charged. If students break out fighting, even at school, they are charged. If a student is with someone that knocks off a bank, no matter if they are 10; they get charged. Students enjoy breaking that teacher/student law all the way until that teacher moves on to the next student.

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