State lawmakers have made it clear: It's a crime for teachers to have sex with students in 12th grade or lower, regardless of the student's age or willingness.
But a revision of state law that clarifies prior ambiguity about student consent comes too late to affect a pending case in Cobb County. Steven Parkman, a former orchestra teacher at Harrison High School, faces five counts of sexual assault against a person in custody and four counts of sodomy for allegedly having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old student in 2008.
Parkman's attorney, Noah Pines, has asked for the case to be dismissed. A ruling on that motion is pending. He says that Parkman never should have been prosecuted. At the time Parkman was charged, a June 2009 ruling by the state Supreme Court made it legal for a teacher to have sex with a student who is above the age of consent in Georgia (16).
"I understand the purpose behind drafting legislation to prevent high school teachers from having sex with high school students, but again that's not what the law said," Pines said.
After the state Supreme Court decision, Cobb County District Attorney Pat Head and other state prosecutors successfully lobbied for a change in the law that took effect May 20, closing the loophole. But Head said that Parkman's case will not be affected. Legislative changes cannot punish someone retroactively.
Pines said Parkman's case may benefit from the law change, since "it proves that the legislation was defective to begin with."
Former Marietta High School teacher Christopher King, who was charged during the same time frame as Parkman, was found not guilty of sexual assault charges stemming from a consensual relationship with a 17-year-old student.
Head nevertheless forged ahead with prosecuting Parkman, saying that he believed a jury should decide if consent is a valid defense. The parents of the student have said Parkman groomed her for a relationship and threatened to lower her grades when she tried to extricate herself from their four-month affair.
"One of the issues you have to look at is the psychology of the relationship between a student and a teacher," Head said. "Even though you may say yes, as a student do you really mean yes? Or is it because you've been coerced by that dominion that is over you?"
A separate issue in the case is the felony sodomy charges against Parkman, which allege that he and the student had consensual oral sex in public places on four occasions. His lawyer has filed a motion asking for the charges to be dismissed because he argues that Georgia's sodomy laws are unconstitutional and overly punitive. Additionally, Pines says that if his client is charged with sodomy, the student should likewise be prosecuted.
Head said that "sometimes prosecutors don't charge a co-defendant so they can call them as a witness."