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Court Reverses Parapro’s Conviction for Sexual Assault

February 2, 2016

In Morrow v. State, the Georgia Court of Appeals held that Georgia’s sexual assault statute, which prohibits sexual contact between teachers and students, does not apply to a paraprofessional where the State cannot prove that such person had direct supervisory or disciplinary authority over the student with whom there was sexual contact.

The defendant was a paraprofessional at a Cherokee County High School where he was hired to attend to the needs of a particular special-needs student. His job was to accompany the student to all of his classes and provide assistance to him as needed. During the course of his employment, the defendant met, and ultimately became sexually involved with, a 16 year-old female student at the same school. The female student shared two classes (homeroom and math) with the special-needs student.

When the girl reported this relationship to her mother, and then the police, the defendant was arrested and indicted for sexual assault. Georgia’s sexual assault statute (OCGA § 16-6-5.1) provides that “a person who has supervisory or disciplinary authority over another individual commits sexual assault when that person is a teacher, principal, assistant principal, or other administrator…and engages in sexual contact with such other individual who the actor knew or should have known is enrolled at the same school.” Therefore, the State was required to prove not only that the defendant was employed at the same school as the female student, but also that he had supervisory or disciplinary authority over her.

At trial, the State offered no evidence that the defendant had any kind of general supervisory or disciplinary authority over students at the school, other than the single special-needs student he attended to. The female student testified that she knew that the defendant’s job was specifically to sit with the special-needs student, and that he had no other job duties with respect to the other students. In fact, there was even another paraprofessional assigned to her math class who directly assisted the teacher and monitored the class when the teacher left the room.

The Court held that merely showing that all teachers and paraprofessionals at a school have some kind of general authority over the students is insufficient to establish the type of supervisory or disciplinary authority required by the sexual assault statute. Rather, the Court stressed that the statute requires the State to prove that the defendant had some degree “of direct disciplinary or supervisory authority over the victim” in the case.

Therefore, because the State could not establish that the defendant actually had the authority to either supervise or discipline the female student as part of his employment, the Court of Appeals reversed his sexual assault conviction.

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