Last year, the Pennsylvania legislature took action to increase the criminal penalties against teachers who have sexual contact with their underage students. Now, teachers are included in the state's institutional sexual assault statute, which currently prohibits employees of youth detention centers, prisons and mental health facilities from having sex with underage wards or patients.
Previously, teachers who were convicted of having sex with students who were younger than 18 but older than 16, the age of consent in Pennsylvania, would likely face charges of corrupting a minor. This misdemeanor charge generally carried a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
But under the new law, teachers who have sexual contact with students under the age of 18 may be charged with a third-degree felony. The maximum sentence for such an offense is seven years in prison and being forced to register as a sex offender for 10 years.
State and local district attorneys reportedly believed that the misdemeanor charge was not a sufficient punishment and called for increased penalties for teachers who have sex with students. The bill was passed by the legislature and signed into law late last year.
The new law has been met with much criticism from criminal defense attorneys and other defendants' advocates throughout the state. Many people believe that the current five-year sentence is sufficient for these alleged sex crimes, and at least one lawyer has questioned why teachers are treated differently than other adults who are entrusted with the care of minors, such as priests or leaders of Boy Scout troops.
Source: The Pocono Record, "Penalties toughened for Pa. teachers who have sex with students," Riley Yates, Feb. 22, 2012
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