An Alabama judge ruled on Tuesday that prohibitions against teachers having sex with students do not violate the Constitution.
It may seem obvious, but defense attorneys for Carrie Witt — a Decatur High School teacher and athletics coach charged with having sex with two minors — challenged the principle in a Morgan County District Court proceeding earlier in April.
Witt’s counselors, Robert Tuten and Nick Heatherly, filed a motion asking a Judge Brent Craig to throw out their client’s charges on the basis the state law criminalizing student-teacher sexual relationships violate the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, with its protections of free speech and free association.
The judge dismissed that motion, arguing restricting Witt’s right to sex with underage students does indeed limit her rights, but that such a restriction is in the state’s broader interest.
“Constitutional liberties may be restrained when the state has a legitimate interest in doing so,” Craig said of his ruling. “The classic example is, while American citizens enjoy the freedom of speech, one cannot yell fire in a crowded movie theater. Freedom of speech can be restricted.”
“Teachers are vested with a great deal of trust by the school districts, the parents, the public, and the students themselves,” continued Craig, citing a Kansas case. “Our legislature has sought to preserve that trust by prohibiting teachers from misusing their access to students as a means to obtain sex. A sexually charged learning environment would confuse, disturb, and distract students, thus undermining the quality of education in Kansas.”
In other words, though Alabama law deprives her of certain liberties, the state has a valid and defensible reason for doing so.
The 42-year-old Witt taught history and social studies and coached the girls’ golf and JV cheerleading squads.
The case will continue at a preliminary hearing on May 3, 2016, at 9:00 a.m.