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Court Rejects Constitutional Challenge to Molestation Statute

January 4, 2017

In Grier v. State, the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the defendant’s convictions for four counts of aggravated child molestation and statutory rape.

The trial court found that the defendant, a teacher at a middle school, initiated a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old student who was in foster care under DFCS custody. It was alleged that the defendant engaged in intercourse and sodomy with the girl on multiple occasions in the defendant’s classroom and at least once outside of school.

The defendant argued that the girl lacked credibility and that her DFCS records were exculpatory as they showed her prior misconduct. The defendant requested the production of the records but, instead of requesting an in camera inspection by the court, requested that the records be provided directly to the defendant’s attorney. DFCS filed a motion to quash this request, which was granted. After trial, the court reviewed the DFCS records in camera and held that they contained no exculpatory evidence and that the defendant failed to show a reasonable probability that the outcome of the trial would have been different had the records been obtained prior to trial.

The defendant also argued that his rights under the Equal Protection Clause were violated due to the grossly disproportionate and thus cruel and unusual sentence for aggravated child molestation by sodomy. The Court noted that in Odett v. State the Georgia Supreme Court previously considered a slightly different argument that “there is no rational basis for treating child molestation based on an act of sodomy differently from child molestation based on other acts, and the different treatment [for the act of sodomy] violates…equal protection and due process rights under the United States and Georgia Constitutions.”

In Odett, the Georgia Supreme Court held that sexual conduct with a minor is not protected by any privacy right, and that, “[a]s the statute at issue does not affect a fundamental right or a suspect class…[the statute] need only bear a rational relationship to some legitimate state purpose.” Therefore, it concluded that the statute met this standard. Citing the reasoning in Odett, the Court of Appeals rejected the defendant’s constitutional argument.

As a result, the Court of Appeals affirmed the defendant’s convictions for aggravated child molestation and statutory rape.

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