Improper Relationship Between Educator and Student

Improper Relationship Between Educator and Student

Improper Relationship Between Educator and Student

(Or when is a cigar not simply a cigar?)

A true story provided by a friend from long ago 

I would like to start this article with a story – a true story with a happy ending.  

In the early 1970’s when I was a high school student in a small town in central Texas, a young football coach and math teacher was hired by our school. In his first year as a teacher and coach, he met and fell in love with one of his students – a senior class coed who was in one of his math classes. She was 18 years old at the time, a good student, pretty, popular, and from a prominent local family. 

The coach was very popular as well. Everyone liked him. He was a recent college graduate who was only a few years older than the students he taught and the boys he coached on the football team. The students and the football team viewed him as someone who could have been their older brother. 

His relationship with the coed was no secret around the school. In fact, the coach and the coed did not even try to hide their feelings for each other. They would frequently attend parties and other functions together as a couple. In that day and time, we students all thought the relationship was unusual, but no one thought it was inappropriate. 

Later that year after the coed graduated, the two of them got married and lived happily together as husband and wife for over 40 years, until the coach unfortunately passed away from an extended illness.  

End of story.


Fast forward to today

This happy story is not an isolated event. Many of you who are old enough to be around during that era may be able to remember similar events that happened in your school. 

But make no mistake: this story could not have taken place in today’s society. If it did, this fine young coach and future husband of 40 years would have been arrested, taken to jail, prosecuted, and likely sent to the state penitentiary for a very long period of time. Furthermore, the pretty young coed and future wife of the coach would have been deemed a “crime victim,” even though in her eyes nothing could have been further from the truth. The reason why is because in 2003, the Texas legislature enacted a law which made this type of relationship illegal. 


Enter Texas Penal Code Article 21.12

Subject to a few rare exceptions, Article 21.12 of the Texas Penal Code makes it a crime for a teacher or any other employee of a public or private primary or secondary school to engage in sexual contact, or have a sexual relationship with, a student enrolled in a primary or secondary school at which the employee works. The law applies broadly to any employee and any student in the same school or district. It also applies to an educator having an improper relationship with a student who is a participant in any activity sponsored by the educator’s school or school district. 

Also be aware that this type of relationship is a crime even if the student involved is otherwise over the legal age of consent (17 years in Texas), and if the contact between teacher and student happens entirely off campus. 

This offense, called Improper Relationship Between Educator and Student, is a second degree felony, which carries a penalty range of no less than two and no more than 20 years’ incarceration in the Texas Department of Corrections. The person convicted could also receive a fine of up to $10,000. 

The clear message the legislature is sending to our teachers, coaches, and other school employees is: Don’t mess around with your students! 


Recent Trends

The recent trends associated with this legislation demonstrate not only a change in the law, but also a growing shift in the manner in which illicit affairs between teachers and students are viewed broadly by our society. According to published data from the Texas Education Agency from 2018, the number of opened investigations into allegations of inappropriate relationships between teachers and students has increased 42% since the previous year. This number is a 249% increase from a decade ago. 

  This law was no doubt intended to curb sexual predation by unscrupulous teachers and other school employees on the vulnerable children in our school system. To this end the law is indeed much needed, and is perhaps arguably overdue. Our school system is the last place where we want our children to be exposed to sexual predators. Any adult who seeks employment in our schools for the purpose of finding outlets for their sexual gratification should be punished to the fullest extent allowed by law.

The vast majority of individuals who enter into the teaching profession, however, do so with the most honorable of intentions. Teachers are one of our society’s greatest resource. But the sad reality is that we are all human, and the powerful impulses associated with romance and human sexuality are hard for some people to ignore. Therefore from time to time, a teacher – perhaps especially one who is only a few years older than the students in which they teach – may find themselves tempted to enter into a questionable scenario which our society now deems unlawful. If so, that teacher will most certainly lose their job and may wind up losing their freedom as well.  


So what should I do?

No longer will you hear any new stories involving relationships between teachers and students that have happy endings. The Texas legislature has put a decisive end to that possibility.  But that does not mean that these relationships will no longer occur, given the nature of who we are as human beings. Nor does it mean that every teacher charged with having an improper relationship is a sexual predator who should face a felony charge followed by a lengthy penitentiary sentence. 

If you or someone you care about is being charged with such a crime, it is imperative that you find competent legal representation immediately. You need a legal advocate on your side that will fight for you in the courtroom. Perhaps equally as important, you need an attorney who understands the human complexities of the situation you find yourself in, and is capable of framing a winning story for you when your day in court finally arrives. Remember that juries are human, too, and will do the right thing when presented with a compelling narrative from a competent attorney who understands the nature of the offense alleged.


How can I get more information about this topic?

If you are charged with this or any other type of criminal offense you should contact a competent defense attorney skilled in the practice of criminal law immediately in order to begin work on your defense. The Bigham Law Firm has the attorneys with the experience, expertise, and resources to properly represent you in these difficult types of cases. 

If you would like more information about how to protect yourself in any criminal case, please call the Bigham Law Firm at (979) 743-4153 for a free consultation. 

THE BIGHAM LAW FIRM

PERSONAL INJURY | CRIMINAL DEFENSE | FAMILY LAW

Ken Bigham Jr. has nearly three decades of experience navigating the law to protect his clients from unfair treatment by insurance companies, the government and corporations. He believes that Bigham Law’s purpose is to provide outstanding value to its clients and compassionate service to its community. 

FREE CONSULTATION

Ultimately, my case was dismissed and I received a fair restitution in the lawsuit that followed. It is reassuring to have someone you can trust when required to navigate our unique legal system.

H.P. 2018

Criminal Defense, Facebook Review

When do the police have the right to search your vehicle/person?

When do the police have the right to search your vehicle/person?

When do the police have the right to search your vehicle/person?

Search and seizure law is a complicated and constantly evolving legal subject area which affects the lives of many citizens as they come into contact with law enforcement officers. Oftentimes these encounters with the police occur during routine traffic stops; i.e. where the officer stops a citizen for a minor traffic violation, which then escalates into a search and arrest of the citizen for a much more serious crime. 

The Legal Background

Whether a law enforcement officer has a lawful right to conduct a search and seizure of your person or vehicle is governed by the Fourth Amendment to our U.S. Constitution: 

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The United States Supreme Court has categorized the interpretation of the Fourth Amendment based in part upon a multitude of different factual scenarios, some of which constitute exceptions to the warrant requirement. The common denominator in each scenario is the Court’s attempt to balance the privacy rights of citizens against the duties of law enforcement officers to conduct investigations (searches) and to make lawful arrests (seizures) when a crime has been committed. 

Since the Fourth Amendment only prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, the operative concept in any situation is whether or not the officer’s decision to conduct a search or seizure was reasonable under the circumstances. In a nutshell, if the court determines that the officer’s actions were not reasonable, any evidence collected or discovered as a result of the unlawful police action can be suppressed; i.e. it will not be admissible in a criminal trial as evidence against the accused. 

For example, generally the law requires the police to have a warrant based upon probable cause and signed by a judge in order to search a person’s house. In contrast, the police can search a car at the scene of a suspected crime when the officer has only a reasonable suspicion that a crime is being or has been committed.  No warrant is required. This latter case represents the automobile exception to the warrant requirement.  

The key differences between these two searches are that a vehicle is mobile, which renders obtaining a warrant to search the vehicle impracticable. In addition, our society places a higher expectation of privacy on a person’s home than on a person’s vehicle. Therefore, a warrantless search of a person’s vehicle is deemed reasonable under the circumstances, whereas a warrantless search of the person’s house is not. 

Three Tiers of Police/Citizen Encounters

Keep in mind that not every encounter a citizen may have with the police will necessarily invoke a Fourth Amendment application. The case law has divided citizen/police encounters into three basic categories, and only the last two involve the Fourth Amendment:

1. The Consensual Encounter:

This first level represents the most mundane form of interaction, and is the only time where the Fourth Amendment does not apply. This is the situation where an officer approaches a citizen (or a citizen approaches an officer), and the two of them have a consensual conversation, as opposed to a custodial interrogation. What is key to the consensual encounter is that the citizen has not been “seized,” i.e. has not been placed under arrest nor is being detained in any way. Here, the citizen is free to answer questions, or not, and can even walk away from the officer’s presence if the citizen chooses to do so. The officer does not need probable cause or reasonable suspicion to initiate a consensual encounter. However, in the event that the citizen does say something incriminating, or voluntarily allows the officer to search his/her person or vehicle, then the product of that interaction is not suppressible under a Fourth Amendment justification. 

2. The Terry Stop:

The second tier of encounter is known in legal terms as the Terry stop (referring to the seminal Supreme Court case of Terry v. Ohio, 1968). Pursuant to Terry v. Ohio, an officer can temporarily detain a citizen for a reasonable amount of time when the officer has a reasonable suspicion that the person has committed a crime, is committing a crime, or is about to commit a crime. In this situation the citizen is not under formal arrest, but he/she has been detained (and therefore seized), meaning the citizen is not free to leave until the officer gives the citizen permission to do so. The officer can proceed by initiating a limited investigation, as dictated by the circumstances. If, however, the officer detains a person without the requisite degree of suspicion, the person’s Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful search and seizure are violated.  If contraband or evidence of criminal activity is uncovered as a result of the unlawful detention, then the evidence recovered may be suppressed at trial.  

3. A Formal Arrest:

The final and most extreme level of encounter with law enforcement is the full-blown arrest, where the citizen is cuffed and taken to jail. In order for a police officer to make a lawful arrest, the officer must have probable cause to believe the citizen has committed a crime. As the phrase implies, probable cause is a higher level of certainty than mere reasonable suspicion, discussed above. Just as with a Terry stop, if the officer arrests a person without the requisite degree of probable cause, the person’s Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful search and seizure are violated. If contraband or evidence of criminal activity is uncovered as a result of the unlawful arrest, the evidence obtained as a result may be suppressed at trial. 

Application of these Legal Principles

Returning again to our opening traffic-stop scenario, we can conceive of many common fact patterns where these principles come into play, and may have a significant impact on the outcome of a criminal trial. 

Example One:

In the first-tier situation, an officer clocks a vehicle for speeding. The officer initiates a traffic stop, and detains the citizen temporarily as the officer writes the driver a speeding ticket and runs a routine background license check. During their conversation regarding the ticket, the officer asks the citizen for permission to search the vehicle. The driver declines the request, which he has a right to do.  Since the driver declines the search request, and since the officer has no probable cause or reasonable suspicion to conduct a search, the officer must then release the driver at this point in time. If the officer violates his duty and searches the vehicle without permission, nothing the officer discovers can be used against the driver at trial.

Now let’s change the facts of the above example to reflect the higher tiers of citizen/officer encounter. 

Example Two:

If in the first example the officer smells the odor of marijuana emitting from the inside of the vehicle as he approaches the door to talk to the driver about the speeding violation, the officer has thereby acquired a reasonable suspicion that the crime of Possession of Marijuana has been or is being committed in the vehicle. This reasonable suspicion gives the officer the right to detain the driver at least temporarily to conduct an investigation. So the officer searches the vehicle and finds a marijuana cigarette in the center console beside the driver. The officer now has probable cause to arrest the driver (a seizure) for the misdemeanor crime of Possession of Marijuana. 

Upon making the marijuana arrest, the officer now searches the driver’s person incident to an arrest. In the driver’s pocket the officer finds a baggie containing a small amount of white powdery substance that the officer knows from his training and experience to be cocaine. The officer can now arrest the driver for the additional felony crime of Possession of Controlled Substance. 

This second scenario represents an all too common sequence whereby an officer makes a solid case against the driver, and where the proper application of search and seizure law dictated the parameters of the officer’s right to conduct an investigation. This case will sustain a Fourth Amendment challenge since the entire process was consistent with the powers granted to law enforcement, relative to the test of reasonableness described above. All the evidence collected in this example would be admissible at trial against the driver. 

What should I do if I get pulled over and the officer wants to search?

Ultimately there’s not much you can do if an officer is determined to search you or your vehicle. Just rest assured that if you hire a good attorney, everything will get sorted out in court eventually. There are, however, several rules you can follow which will place you in the best possible position later in the event you are charged.

1. Stay cool, and be nice to the officer.

In all likelihood, the nicer you are, the better chance the officer will return your kindness back to you. You don’t have to consent to their requests, but you should avoid being belligerent, and/or quoting the law to the officer. After all, officers are human, too, and the last thing you want to do is to give the officer a psychological motivation to charge you with a crime. Remaining calm and polite will also look good to a jury if the officer’s body cam is played to the jury later in court. Finally, if the officer does attempt to search you or arrest you, do not resist. If you do, you will just escalate the situation to a point which may quickly get out of control. 

2. To the extent possible, remain silent.

Remember that anything you say or do may be used against you in court, especially if you volunteer incriminating information. Of course there are a few things you must say, but keep your conversation to a minimum. 

3. Decline the officer’s request to search your car. 

Even if you have nothing to hide, remember that the officer’s search may take quite some time and may trash your vehicle or belongings in the process. As a citizen you have the right to decline their request, and your decision to do so cannot be held against you. A good way to respond is to say “Officer, I know you’re just doing your job, but I need to get on my way so I’m going to decline your request.” 

4. Determine if you are free to go. 

If the officer has no reasonable suspicion to detain you, then you should be able to leave immediately following the issuance of a ticket in a traffic stop situation. There is no reason for you agree to stick around until they summons a drug dog, or until they find some other reason to detain you. But again, don’t just assume you can leave without their permission. You should ask, “Officer are you still detaining me, or am I free to leave?” That question will put the officer on the spot, and will be an important point in time for your defense should you find yourself in court. 

5. Ask for a lawyer! 

In the criminal justice system, these are magic words. Saying these words out loud are like throwing kryptonite at Superman.  If you already have a lawyer, tell the officer you would like to consult with him/her before continuing or making a statement. If you do not have a lawyer, tell the officer that you want one appointed before continuing further. Say these words clearly and repeatedly if necessary, and make sure that you say them loudly enough for the officer’s body cam to record what you say. 

How can I get more information about this topic?

If you are charged with a criminal offense you should contact a competent defense attorney skilled in the practice of criminal law immediately in order to begin work on your defense. The Bigham Law Firm has the attorneys with the experience, expertise, and resources to properly represent you in these difficult types of cases. 

If you would like more information about how to protect yourself in any criminal case, please call the Bigham Law Firm at (979) 743-4153 for a free consultation. 

THE BIGHAM LAW FIRM

PERSONAL INJURY | CRIMINAL DEFENSE | FAMILY LAW

Ken Bigham Jr. has nearly three decades of experience navigating the law to protect his clients from unfair treatment by insurance companies, the government and corporations. He believes that Bigham Law’s purpose is to provide outstanding value to its clients and compassionate service to its community. 

FREE CONSULTATION

This firm gave me my life back. Before Ken and his team I almost gave up hope and caved. He gave me back a chance to finish my schooling, move past what was done to me, and handed back the tools I needed to be a man.

Here I am now a father to a beautiful little girl and building a small business. I can say if I didn’t meet Ken, the story would have been not quite the same. Nothing but love and appreciation from me and my family.

J.S. 2019

Criminal Defense, Facebook Review

What is “Presumption of Innocence” for those accused of a crime?

What is “Presumption of Innocence” for those accused of a crime?

What is “Presumption of Innocence” for those accused of a crime?

A bedrock principle of the American criminal jurisprudence is that a defendant accused of a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This ancient legal principle was passed down to us by the English Common Law. Before that, its origins can be traced back to the days of the Roman Empire. Most of the countries in the civilized world embrace this universal concept in varying forms, as evidenced by Article 11 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights

In the United States, this iconic idea is expressed repeatedly in our case law, and is reflected in the due process guarantees of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. It also exists in statutory form in our Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Article 38.03: 

All persons are presumed to be innocent and no person may be convicted of an offense unless each element of the offense is proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The fact that he has been arrested, confined, or indicted for, or otherwise charged with, the offense gives rise to no inference of guilt at his trial.

What exactly does Presumption of Innocence mean?

The term “presumption” means the acceptance of something as being true. In the legal context, the phrase “presumption of innocence” means that a judge or jury must start the trial by accepting a defendant’s innocence at the beginning. Once the trial begins, however, the presumption of innocence becomes a “rebuttable” presumption, meaning that the prosecution can overcome the presumption by introducing evidence at trial tending to show that the defendant is indeed guilty of the alleged crime. If the prosecution can convince the jury of the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, then the presumption is rebutted and the jury should vote to convict the defendant. 

A practical consequence of this concept is that a criminal defendant is under no obligation to prove his/her innocence at trial; rather, it is the prosecution’s burden to prove the defendant’s guilt. Therefore, a defendant does not have to introduce any evidence whatsoever at trial if he/she chooses not to do so. This is a subtle but very important distinction that every good criminal defense attorney will take special care to insure the jury understands. 

What is the Burden of Proof that the prosecution must meet?

The presumption of innocence and the burden of proof are interrelated concepts which must work together hand-in-hand. As mentioned above, the burden of proof in criminal cases is responsibility of the prosecution at all times. That burden is called “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This is the highest burden of proof imposed across all categories of law.  

Beyond a reasonable doubt has no precise legal definition, so each individual juror is allowed to decide what that phrase means to them. This absence of a definition also allows both the prosecution and the defense attorney to be creative when arguing to the jury regarding how the standard is to be applied to the facts of any particular case. And this is why you, if you are a defendant charged with a crime, want to be sure that you choose your defense attorney wisely, since he/she will be in a dynamic struggle with the a skilled prosecutor in the ultimate fight to retain your freedom from incarceration.

How can I get more information about this topic?

If you are charged with a criminal offense you should contact a competent defense attorney skilled in the practice of criminal law immediately in order to begin work on your defense. The Bigham Law Firm has the attorneys with the experience, expertise, and resources to properly represent you in these difficult types of cases. 

If you would like more information about how to protect yourself in any criminal case, please call the Bigham Law Firm at (979) 743-4153for a free consultation. 

THE BIGHAM LAW FIRM

PERSONAL INJURY | CRIMINAL DEFENSE | FAMILY LAW

Ken Bigham Jr. has nearly three decades of experience navigating the law to protect his clients from unfair treatment by insurance companies, the government and corporations. He believes that Bigham Law’s purpose is to provide outstanding value to its clients and compassionate service to its community. 

FREE CONSULTATION

Mr. Bigham and his staff have provided me with exceptional service. They have gone above and beyond to assist me with every detail regarding my case.

Tracie Corley, Texas

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