Appeal may affect laws

  • Follow Metro

The Georgia Supreme Court hears arguments Tuesday in an Augusta case that could lead to another major change in the state's sex crimes laws.

The state's highest court agreed to hear Melissa L. Chase's appeal. The court grants such requests in only a small fraction of cases.

In Ms. Chase's case, the justices said each side should answer this question: Is consent a defense to a charge of sexual assault against a person enrolled in school?

In a Richmond County Superior Court bench trial in June 2007, Judge Carl C. Brown Jr. found Ms. Chase guilty of that charge. He imposed the mandatory minimum punishment, 10 years in prison.

Ms. Chase, now 31, was a Harlem High School teacher and coach who befriended her former student. The 16-year-old testified during the trial that she had pursued a relationship with Ms. Chase and that they had a single, consensual sexual encounter at Ms. Chase's Augusta home in November 2006.

Judge Brown ruled during the trial that Ms. Chase could not raise consent as a defense.

Although the girl was over the age of consent, the statute that criminalizes sexual contact between school personnel and students does not allow consent as a defense, Judge Brown ruled. The Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed that decision last year.

But Ms. Chase's appellant team of Victor Hawk and Melissa Detchemendy, and the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, which weighed in with an amicus brief, contend that interpretation of the law is wrong.

The statute Ms. Chase was convicted of violating has different sections.

It prohibits sexual contact between school personnel and students, between jail or prison employees and inmates, and between hospital or medical personnel and patients.

It also prohibits sexual contact between psychotherapists and their patients.

Ms. Chase's legal supporters point to the specific language in the law that eliminates "consent" as a defense when the accused is a guard, medical personnel or psychotherapist. It is not addressed in the section dealing with school personnel.

"If the Legislature wanted to restrict the defense of consent in all subsections it could have," Mr. Hawk wrote in the brief filed on behalf of Ms. Chase.

It makes sense that the Legislature would only want to eliminate such a defense in cases where the accused has a powerful physical or psychological control over the victim, the defense brief contends.

The state's brief counters that school personnel have access to children for a substantial and influential part of their lives. Allowing a consent defense would clearly be contrary to the public interest, Assistant District Attorney Charles Sheppard wrote in the state's brief.

"The state has an even greater responsibility in this regard as it pertains to students in the public school system since it has assumed direct custody and control over them for a significant portion of their young lives," the district attorney's brief says.

The Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers counters that the state's argument should be addressed by the General Assembly, not the courts.

"The question is whether it is rational to classify those who are enrolled in school ... one way in terms of their consent to sexual contacts and to classify those who are actually institutionalized in a prison or hospital (or who are subject to psychotherapy) another way. It is," the association contends.

The association raises the case of Powell v. State, the 1998 case in which the Georgia Supreme Court struck down the state's sodomy law, which criminalized the sex act even when consensual.

The protest against Ms. Chase's mandatory minimum sentence is similar to another landmark Supreme Court case.

Genarlow Wilson, a 17-year-old Douglas County, Ga., student, was convicted in 2005 of aggravated child molestation for having consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old girl.

In response to the case, the General Assembly changed the law in 2006 to make such willing conduct between teenagers a misdemeanor offense.

The change was not retroactive, however, and didn't apply to Mr. Wilson.

The Supreme Court overturned Mr. Wilson's conviction and mandatory 10-year prison sentence in October 2007 on the grounds it was cruel and unusual punishment.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.

Comments (11) Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
justus4
107
Points
justus4 04/12/09 - 04:49 am
0
0
Mumbo Jumbo talk. Ms Chase's
Unpublished

Mumbo Jumbo talk. Ms Chase's sentence was cruel and unusual and will be overturned by the Supreme Court. The judge failed to comprehend the difference between those institutionalized and abused and those abused by school personnel. He also should have considered the consent defense because it's important to know if both were willing participants or if force had been used. Also, this appears to be a two women relationship which the judge probably has no stomach, so the standard line applies, "my hands are tied due to mandatory minimums" but he could have found a way to reduce the sentence. He didn't want to and it's probably due to Chase's lifestyle.

Craig Spinks
817
Points
Craig Spinks 04/12/09 - 05:20 am
0
0
I hate to admit- I REALLY

I hate to admit- I REALLY hate to admit - this but Hawk finally has a discovered a valid point: no longer do school personnel have strong psychological control over students(like they did 40-plus years ago when I was in school). Visit public schools, observe how our kids behave there, and see if you don't agree with my reluctantly-drawn and frightening conclusion.

parrishrd
0
Points
parrishrd 04/12/09 - 06:45 am
0
0
What a suprise. A youg white

What a suprise. A youg white female has a sexual relationship with a moinor, and it is okay. Most of the people that post write abot how people are not moral anymore. People do not do the right thing. What sorry small troubled adult would have sex with a child. Oh,let me guess. Because she lived and probably still lives a alternative lifestyle in prison, that is her excuse for having sex with a minor. No excuse. I want all of the people that support this women to think about your children or grandchildren having consenual sex with an adult. Sex with a minor who is more than 3 yrs younger shold be a crime. This pervert was a teenage girl when the VICTIM was born. If she was not a teacher, she would have probably never came in contact with the child. She is no different than a 30 yr old who goes to the under 18 club. What pride you must feel charming a child out of her clothes. Even if the victim consented or pursued the act, that does not excuse the adults behavior. If we are going to look down on all sex acts between minors and adults, we need to stay consistant. That case referenced in Atlanta about the 19 yr old and the 15 year old was not excused by the chronicle readers . Why?

pofwe
5
Points
pofwe 04/12/09 - 07:29 am
0
0
What is a moinor?

What is a moinor?

JENASIX
0
Points
JENASIX 04/12/09 - 07:32 am
0
0
This epidemic need a close

This epidemic need a close look at; and find out why are white teachers have sex with their high school pupils?

getalife
4
Points
getalife 04/12/09 - 08:31 am
0
0
This is getting scary, I

This is getting scary, I agree with Justus4 again. The man that molested the 11 year old girl only got 5 years?? If the 16 year old consented to the act, then this should be thrown out of the courts.

andywarhol
0
Points
andywarhol 04/12/09 - 08:42 am
0
0
We are getting about as

We are getting about as backwards as Saudi where they cane raped women on the grounds that they had sex outside of marriage.

Grasshopper
7
Points
Grasshopper 04/12/09 - 08:55 am
0
0
I think the whole thing is

I think the whole thing is disgusting, but the person was of age and it was not rape. She should have just lost her job.

disssman
6
Points
disssman 04/12/09 - 09:01 am
0
0
This is kind of like the

This is kind of like the "handicapped parking laws" they start out as something that is needed then baloon into ridiculousness. Or how about the Zero tolerance laws that are really Zero brain laws. BTW POFWE a minor is the kid down the street who got a UZI for his birthday only because he had received his Glock for christmas from mom and dad.

avidreader
3392
Points
avidreader 04/12/09 - 09:43 am
0
0
If a female student comes by

If a female student comes by my room after school to make up a test, the young woman must sit at the desk closest to the door, which remains open at all times. I also alert a neighboring female teacher that the student is present. EVERY teacher in the state knows that improper sexual conduct with a student is forbidden -- no matter what the circumstances. NO EXCUSES. Just don't do it, or your career and personal existence will be in grave jeopardy. Ms. Chase is a predator and her lawyers reek of justifying immorality. There are some cases a lawyer should refuse to explore.

DEVGRU
0
Points
DEVGRU 04/12/09 - 10:01 am
0
0
10 years is quite harsh for

10 years is quite harsh for this case. Probation would have served the purpose. You don't get 10 years for aggravated assault in some cases.

HYPOCRITES 08
7
Points
HYPOCRITES 08 04/12/09 - 01:31 pm
0
0
Sex between an adult and a

Sex between an adult and a teenager, should be left alone. Yet you want every details of sex between adult teachers? What is wrong with this picture?

Back to Top

Search Augusta jobs