August 1, 2017
Last Friday, a divided Indiana Court of Appeals decided that a former school employee could be prosecuted for child seduction although the physical relationship with the student did not begin until several months following the employee’s resignation. In Benner vs. State, the defendant worked as assistant girls’ basketball coach at Mishawaka High School for four seasons. He held no other position with the school corporation. Benner resigned his position at the conclusion of the 2012-13 basketball season. Shortly afterward the 44 year old Benner and a junior class basketball player began a relationship that became intimate in the late summer of 2013; the relationship lasted approximately five months. It is undisputed that there was no physical relationship between the two while Benner served as assistant coach. Ultimately, Benner was charged with two felony counts.
Benner sought dismissal of the charges on several grounds, some involving hyper-technical legal arguments. One argument Benner raised was that the applicable section of the child seduction statute used only present tense terminology when defining when a professional relationship exists between an adult and student. Benner asserted that the plain language of the statute thereby required that the inappropriate physical relationship with a student must occur while the adult was still employed by the school. Here, he argued, that was not the case and the criminal charges against him should be dropped. In its 2-1 decision, the Court’s majority acknowledged that the statute used only present tense terminology, but disagreed with Benner’s analysis on how the wording applied to and its effect on his particular situation. One of the three appellate judges found Benner’s analysis persuasive and would have dismissed the charges against him.
While not earth shattering and encumbered with fairly heavy legal analysis, the Court’s decision makes clear that child seduction can occur between a student and former employee, even though the physical relationship did not begin until after the adult is no longer employed by your school corporation. Realistically, that possibility imposes an obligation on educators to make an immediate report of child abuse if one learns that a subsequent relationship occurred between a student and a former employee. You cannot take the position “Nothing physical happened until after our coach, substitute teacher, paraprofessional, classified staff member, or teacher ended their employment, so I do not need to do anything.” You should handle the reporting requirements the same as if a current employee were involved.
If you have any questions about or would like a copy of this decision and the disserting opinion, please contact us. The very best of luck to you with the 2017-18 school year.
Warrick & Boyn, LLP, is a full-service law firm in Elkhart, Ind., that practices in all areas of business and corporate law. Areas of practice include commercial litigation, creditors’ rights and bankruptcy law, labor and employment law, defense litigation, securities law and regulation, worker’s compensation defense, education and school law, EEOC law, employee benefits law and pension plans, environmental law and regulation, tax and estate planning, municipal law, and property and real estate law. The firm’s clients are located primarily in northern Indiana and southwestern Michigan, and most of the attorneys are licensed to practice in both Indiana and Michigan.