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Driving Instructor Considered “Teacher” Under Georgia’s Old Sexual Assault Statute

April 6, 2022

In Huggins v. State, the Court upheld a driving school instructor's sexual assault conviction because he was considered a teacher under the wording of the former statute.

In Huggins v. State, the defendant appealed his conviction for sexual assault, arguing that although he was employed as a driving instructor at a technical college, he was not a “teacher” as it was defined under the old wording of Georgia’s sexual assault statute.

Georgia’s Sexual Assault Statute (Old and New)

Georgia’s sexual assault statute, O.C.G.A. § 16-6-5.1, underwent major changes in 2019. The statute was originally aimed at prosecuting teachers who engaged in any sexual contact with students. It applied to any “teacher, principal, assistant principal, or other administrator of any school.” In a string of Georgia appellate decisions, the statute’s definition of “teacher” became narrowly construed and was held to not apply to those working as coaches, paraprofessionals, or even substitute teachers.

In response to these decisions, the Georgia legislature revamped the statute and even renamed it. The new statute, entitled Improper Sexual Contact by Employee or Agent, now applies to any “individual who works for salary, wages, or other remuneration.” This will include any employee of the school, including administrative assistants and maintenance staff, whether working full-time or part-time. It even applies to independent contractors.

Analysis Under the Old Statute

The first question for the Court of Appeals was whether the college’s driver education course was a “school” for purposes of the sexual assault statute. The Court looked to the statute’s definition of “school” and found that it included “educational programs” such as driving courses. Although the student in this case did not attend the college, she was still enrolled in this particular educational program. Also, despite the fact that the statute defined “school” as any institution or program providing education to children in grades K-12, the driving program at the college qualified as such because it was limited to drivers between the ages of 15 and 18.

The next question was whether the defendant was a “teacher” for purposes of the statute. For that, the Court looked to the dictionary definition of teacher which is “one that teaches or instructs, especially one whose occupation is to instruct.” The Court found that since the defendant was a certified driving instructor who conducted classroom instruction, graded tests, and was responsible for evaluating the students, he was properly considered a “teacher” by the trial court.

Defendant’s Supervisory Authority

Under the old statute, it was required that the defendant also have supervisory or disciplinary authority over the alleged victim. The defendant argued that he was merely a passenger in the vehicle with her. However, the Court looked to the fact that he was responsible for instructing her, managing and correcting her driving, and ensuring their safety. Thus, the Court found that he at the very least had supervisory authority over her.

As a result, the Court of Appeals affirmed the defendant’s sexual assault conviction.

It should be reiterated that this case was decided under the old version of the sexual assault statute. The new version, which is discussed above, not only expanded the groups of people subject to prosecution, but it completely removed the requirement that the person have supervisory or disciplinary authority over the student. Without this element, the only real question left is whether any sexual conduct occurred between the student and the employee or agent of the school.

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