In a controversial ruling announced Thursday, an Alabama law barring teachers from having sex with students legally considered old enough to consent was declared unconstitutional by a local judge. Along with his ruling, the judge also dismissed charges against two school employees accused of having sex with students between the ages of 16 and 19 years old.
Morgan County Circuit Judge Glenn Thompson dismissed charges that had been filed — in separate cases — against 44-year-old Carrie Witt, a former teacher at Decatur High School in Decatur, and 27-year-old David Solomon, a former aide at Falkville High in Falkville. Witt had been accused of having sex with two male students who were reported to be 17 and 18 at the time the alleged incidents occurred, AL.com reported. Solomon was accused of having sexual contact with a 17-year-old student.
Alabama law prohibits school employees from engaging in sexual relations with students below the age of 19 and deems any violations of the law a Class B felony accompanied by a prison sentence of up to 20 years and registration as a sex offender if convicted. The law also states that consent cannot be used as a defense despite the fact that Alabama's age of consent is 16.
However, defense attorneys for both Witt and Solomon reportedly argued the law violated their clients' equal protection rights as outlined in the Constitution's 14th Amendment. They claimed that because the age of consent in Alabama is 16 and because adults that do not work in schools do not face criminal charges for having consensual sexual relations with 16-year-olds, the law treats school employees different and is thus unconstitutional.
Although Judge Thompson acknowledged state authorities' had just cause in attempting to protect those who might become victims to figures of authority, he ruled the law ultimately took things too far in prohibiting consent as a possible defense. "This court acknowledges that a disparity of power may inherently exist in a teacher/student relationship, but it clearly does not exist in every school employee and every student regardless of where that student is enrolled," AL.com reported Thompson wrote in his ruling.
In the end, Thompson ruled the statue unconstitutional as applied to the cases of Witt and Solomon, AL.com reported. However, he added, "this court does not endeavor to absolve any wrongdoing or to excuse the defendants" and said his ruling should not be taken as a sign the court encouraged "any similarly situated party to engage with impunity in what may very well be criminal behavior."
Morgan County District Attorney Scott Anderson told AL.com the state planned to appeal the ruling.