Teacher’s Guilty Plea Illustrates Subtleties In Utah’s Sex Crimes Laws

In early February, a Davis County charter school drama teacher pleaded guilty to forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony. According to the allegations, the teacher had given an underage girl rides home and fondled her on at least two occasions, and while he was charged with two counts of forcible sexual abuse, one count was dropped by the prosecutor in exchange for a guilty plea.

As a second-degree felony, forcible sexual abuse carries a possible sentence of one to 15 years in prison, and a fine of up to $10,000. However, the prosecutors in the office of the Davis County Attorney say they will recommend that the teacher receive treatment as a sex offender at the Northern Utah Community Correction Facility.

The case serves as a reminder of the variety of laws Utah has that concern sexual activity with children. The charge against the teacher was forcible sexual abuse, which is any sort of sexual touching of a victim over the age of 14. Had the victim been under the age of 14, the charge would have been sexual abuse of a child, which is also a second-degree felony, although a number of additional circumstances (such as use of weapons, violence, threats, and even pornography) can raise it to a first-degree felony. Even being in a “position of special trust,” with the victim, such as a relative, coach, teacher, or doctor (among other roles), can escalate this charge to first-degree felony – as would have been the case here, since the defendant was a teacher.

Utah’s laws regarding sexual conduct with minors are gradually more punative, based on the age of the minor and the conduct in question. For victims under the age of 14, most any sexual act beyond the sexual touching mentioned above is a first-degree felony. For victims between the ages of 14 and 18, the law offers lesser penalties for some crimes (such as unlawful sexual activity with a minor or sexual abuse of a minor) if the defendant is close in age to the victim. But this does not mean that sexual activity with persons in this age range is necessarily legal. Anyone with questions regarding Utah’s various criminal statutes pertaining to sexual activity should talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney.

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