Category Archives: Criminal

Teacher charged with child seduction

Rebecca Green with J-G reports that a former special ed teacher at Woodlan has been charged with child seduction for having sex with a 17-year old student.

Whenever these stories break, people wonder about consent. The teenager voluntarily chose to have sex with the teacher, after all, and the age of consent in Indiana is 16.

Child seduction isn’t quite the same as statutory rape. While a 16-year old can give consent, there is a worry that certain people may be able to unduly influence certain young people, so 16- and 17-year olds are also protected by the child seduction statute. Basically, if a custodian, guardian, adoptive parent/grandparent, stepparent or child care worker (including teacher) of a teenager of 16 or 17 engages in sexual activity with them, they are guilty of child seduction.

There are other classes of people, such as those who have had a professional relationship with the teenager – like a counselor or psychiatrist – who can commit child seduction, as well, although the standards vary. For a psychiatrist, for example, it must be shown that he or she did actually exert undue influence.

For a teacher, that’s not necessary. The act itself is enough to convict.

Two sentencing decisions

ILB points out that the 7th Circuit issued two rulings yesterday related to sentencing. There is a lot to go through, so this post will be updated, but in the meantime check out what they have over at ILB.

EDIT: 6:14 PM

In the first case, U.S. v. Jones, et al., the 7th Circuit highlights several issues with regards to sentencing. Two most important ones:

  • Defendants must be sentenced according to the guidelines in place when the crime was committed, and not subsequent guidelines, if those new guidelines would increase the sentence, as to do otherwise would violate the ex post facto clause of the Constitution.
  • Any element that would serve to increase the mandatory minimum sentence must be submitted to and found by a jury.

In U.S. v. Adame-Hernandez, which involves the same criminal conspiracy (cocaine-dealing) as the first case, the Circuit court makes a very narrow rule regarding plea deals. Adame pleaded guilty to a specific charge, and only after did the trial court reject a plea agreement on virtually identical charges. He ended up being sentenced to 196 months longer than the agreement would have called for. The 7th Circuit vacates and sends the case back to have him sentenced under the original agreement. This case needs some closer reading to really grasp, but on the surface it does appear to be the type of narrow case unlikely to be used often in the future.

The problem with unsure juries

Sometimes a jury isn’t convinced that a defendant is guilty, but they still kinda, sorta think he might be. Often, they have a way out: the lesser included charge.

Juries are given the option of convicting on lesser charges because, in theory, the prosecution may have convinced them that the defendant did what he was accused of, but was not able to prove all the necessary elements of the more serious charge.

Today, Paul Bell, Jr. was acquitted of rape, but convicted of sexual battery. For this to have happened, essentially the jury needs to have been convinced that the assault happened, but unconvinced that it involved any actual sexual penetration. It’s hard to escape the suspicion, however, that the jury simply didn’t know who to believe, so they split the difference.

Court rules on warrant issue

The Indiana Supreme Court has ruled in Gilmette v. State that police do not need a warrant to search property already in their possession thanks to a lawful arrest, even if that search reveals evidence unrelated to the crime for which the person was arrested. Ruling here.

This isn’t too surprising. But it does serve as a useful reminder that once the police have your property in their custody (assuming they’ve gotten in properly and legally), then can absolutely search it, do lab tests, etc.

James Brady and the delayed homicide

Of interesting note for some might be that James Brady’s death has been ruled a homicide, as the direct result of injuries he sustained when John Hinckley, Jr. shot him more than 33 years ago.  Hinckley was famously attempting to kill Ronald Reagan in an effort to impress Jodie Foster.

Traditionally, a death would be considered not a homicide if it occurred more than a year and a day after the action that was claimed to have caused it. Most states have moved away from this rule in one fashion or another.

Michael Worthington executed

On Monday, I mentioned the Michael Worthington case. Pleading guilty to rape and murder, he was sentenced to death. The execution apparently went off without a hitch early this morning. Yesterday, the Court rejected his appeal for a stay on the standard 5-4 vote you see in this cases.

It’s not the most common thing in the world for someone to plead guilty and still receive a sentence of death. It’s also rare for someone to be executed based on factors determined by a judge rather than a jury, after Ring v. Arizona. Put simply, aggravating factors that would make someone eligible for execution must be examined by a jury and proved beyond a reasonable doubt. It’s actually kind of a mess state-by-state, so I might try to find time to go into how it’s applied in Indiana in more detail. It doesn’t really matter in this case, though. Worthington clearly and voluntarily waived his right to a jury trial, so Ring didn’t apply.

Worthington was Missouri’s seventh executed prisoner of 2014, and 77th since the Court lifted the ban on executions in 1976 in Gregg v. Georgia. That ranks Missouri 5th overall (Missouri’s first post-Gregg execution wasn’t until 1989) and tied with Texas and Florida for the most so far this year.

Indiana has one execution technically scheduled for later this year, but the appeals process will end up pushing the date back, likely years. Thirteen other people have been sentenced to die in Indiana but do not currently have execution dates set.

Early Monday roundup 8/4

I took an early weekend, so I have a couple of things to catch up on. Most legally important news happens before Friday, but things do still happen. I might make it a regular habit to dump the stuff that slips through the cracks over the weekend on Monday morning.

First, same-sex marriage. The plaintiffs aren’t going to be given a lot of time in the Indiana/Wisconsin consolidated case to make their arguments. Meanwhile, a county clerk in Virginia is filing for cert with the Supreme Court on the marriage ban there.

With the Seventh Circuit case moving so quickly, it seems likely that the issue of same-sex marriage is going to be decided once and for all during the next Supreme Court term.

Next, health care. The issue of health subsidies for states using the federal exchange is also being pushed forward as fast as possible. Nothing new here, but I expect the Court to take this up right away, as well.

Looking ahead. Nothing much on the SCOTUS front, as the new term doesn’t start until the very end of September.  The Indiana Supreme Court starts hearing cases again just after Labor day.

However, there will be some interesting legal topics in the news this week. Definitely pay attention to the Toledo water crisis. As of this writing, the water was officially down to safe toxin levels(!), but mayor Collins wasn’t ready to lift the advisory on account of two “too close for comfort” results. We’re going to be talking a lot about the cause of the algal bloom, which is almost certainly directly related to farm fertilizer runoff (thanks to a heavy rain season). I suspect the end result on the legal front will be either 1) Ohio enacting new regulations and farmers suing or 2) Ohio not enacting many new regulations and environmental groups suing (or 3) both).

There is also one execution to watch for this week. There were three scheduled, but two have already been stayed. Michael Worthington is set to die Wednesday in Missouri. Worthington broke into his neighbor’s house while drunk and high, strangled her unconscious, raped her, and then beat her and strangled her to death when she woke up and tried to fight him off. Interestingly, he was sentenced to death despite pleading guilty, which is not something you see every day. After Joseph Wood appeared to suffer tremendously in a prolonged death in Arizona last month, all eyes will be on Missouri. I don’t think either the public or the Supreme Court has the political desire to ban executions outright, but if states prove that they are unable to kill people without torturing them (whether or not you blame it on the European Union), that sentiment might begin to shift in both cases.