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Court of Appeals Affirms Dismissal of GA Sexual Assault Case

March 10, 2014

In State v. Hammonds, the Georgia Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s quashing of an indictment charging a defendant with sexual assault against a person in custody.

The Court held that the defendant, who was a secretary at the alleged victims’ school, had no supervisory authority over the students and could not be charged under the statute which criminalizes sexual conduct between students and teachers or administrators.

The record showed that the defendant worked as a secretary at a high school as well as an assistant coach for the junior varsity cheerleading team. The indictment alleged that she had sexual contact with three males between the ages of 17 and 19 who were students at the school where she worked.

Under Georgia law (OCGA § 16-6-5.1(b)(1)), a person with supervisory or disciplinary authority over another commits sexual assault when the person “is a teacher, principal, assistant principal, or other administrator of any school and engages in sexual contact with such other individual who the actor knew or should have known is enrolled at the same school.” The sole issue on appeal was whether the defendant’s job as a secretary and cheerleading coach made her “an administrator” for purposes of the sexual assault statute.

The Court noted that the defendant’s duties were limited to office and clerical work, and that she did not have the authority to discipline any students – only to report misconduct to an administrator. While the defendant had the power to write up disciplinary referrals, the school principal testified that the defendant had no supervisory authority beyond “basic supervision that any adult in the building would have.” The Court cited the dictionary definitions of both “administrator” (a person whose job is to manage a company, school, or other organization) and “secretary” (one employed to handle correspondence and manage routine and detail work for a superior). It concluded that to hold that a secretary was equivalent to an administrator expanded the term administrator beyond its ordinary and logical meaning, and thus was not an acceptable interpretation.

The Court also held that the defendant should not be considered a “teacher” for purposes of the statute merely because she coached cheerleading. The Court stated that even if she could be considered a teacher in this capacity, any supervisory and disciplinary authority deriving from this position would have been limited to the members of her cheerleading team and not over students at the school generally. Here, the male students were not on the junior varsity cheerleading team, and so the defendant did not have the supervisory or disciplinary authority necessary to be charged under the statute.

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