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.