Legal Blog

Court: Substitute Teacher Cannot Be Prosecuted Under Georgia Sexual Assault Statute

February 27, 2019

The Georgia Court of Appeals held that a substitute teacher who does not have teaching credentials, and does not perform meaningful curriculum planning, is not a teacher pursuant to Georgia's sexual assault statute.

As a result, the Court concluded that the defendant could not be prosecuted for allegedly having sex with two of her students and it affirmed the trial court’s order dismissing the indictment against her.

In State v. Rich, the defendant was indicted for three counts of sexual assault of a student, in violation of OCGA § 16-6-5.1 (b) (1). It was alleged in the indictment that the defendant was a “teacher” with “supervisory and disciplinary authority” over the two students. It was alleged that she had sex with these students at her home outside of school hours.

The defendant filed a motion to quash the indictment, arguing that she was not a “teacher” at the time she allegedly had sex with these students. The defense contended: (1) that she was not a “teacher” within the meaning of the statute since she was only a substitute without a teaching certificate; and (2) since she worked as a daily substitute, her supervisory and disciplinary authority over the two students terminated at the end of each school day. The trial court granted the motion finding that because she was just a daily substitute, the defendant was not a “teacher” at the time of the alleged sexual conduct.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling but held that the trial court should have concluded that the defendant was not a “teacher” at all for purposes of the sexual assault statute. The Court noted that there was little difference between non-certified substitute teachers and paraprofessionals (whom the Court had previously exempted from the statute in State v. Morrow).

The Court pointed out that daily substitutes are not required to have any formal education or teaching credentials and are considered “classified employees,” just like cafeteria workers and maintenance staff. If a teacher is absent for more than 10 days, and a long-term substitute is required, the preference for filling that slot is given to those who are certified with the Professional Standards Commission. Like full-time teachers, long-term substitutes are “expected to assume responsibilities for lesson planning and evaluating and grading the students’ work.”

The Court also noted that the dictionary definition of teacher is “one whose occupation is to instruct” and while a substitute teacher may be hired to instruct students, the defendant in this case was only hired to assist and facilitate students with the work already assigned by their full-time teachers. Plus, as the defendant had just a high school diploma, she was not even qualified to serve as a long-term substitute, let alone a full fledged teacher.

Lastly, the Court reasoned that if the legislature intended to include substitute teachers within the ambit of the sexual assault statute, it would have expressly done so. The plain language of the statute clearly only lists teachers, principals, assistant principals, and other administrators as those subject to prosecution.

Therefore, the Court affirmed the trial court’s quashing of the indictment which resulted in the dismissal of the sexual assault charges against the defendant.

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