Legislators, lawyers and law enforcement officers are drafting a bill for next year’s legislative session to close what they say is a loophole in the fourth-degree sex offense law.
The loophole is what forced prosecutors to drop charges in March against a teacher and coach in Montgomery County who was accused of having sex with a 16-year-old student on his track-and-field team.
He coached the high school team part time and taught full time at a county middle school. He since has resigned from Montgomery County Public Schools.
Stemming from this case and others, legal leaders in Montgomery County, including the county police department, want to see that possible predators cannot take advantage of the gap in the law, Assistant Police Chief Russ Hamill said.
“There should be no loophole available for an assailant of this type to hide behind,” Hamill said. “I think we owe that to the parents, in order to boost their confidence that their child will be properly cared for.”
Maryland’s fourth-degree sex offense law only prohibits “persons of authority” from having sexual contact or intercourse with a minor, and the law defines a person of authority to be a person at least 21 years of age who is employed as a full-time permanent employee by a public or private preschool, elementary school or secondary school and who exercises supervision over a minor who attends the school.
Both Del. Sam Arora (D-Dist. 19) of Silver Spring and Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Dist. 46) of Baltimore are drafting bills for the upcoming legislative session to extend the definition of a person of authority to include anyone with supervision of a minor at a school, including part-time staff and volunteers.
“We want to make sure that coaches and people who volunteer for the schools are not able to benefit from the fact that they are just a part-time helper,” Clippinger said.
Arora said Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger asked him to work on the bill.
“Hearing the Montgomery County police tell me about the details of some of the victimization they are aware of, I could see no other choice but to make this one of my top priorities,” Arora said. “When you think about the impact to the lives of our children, there can be no other response in my opinion.”
Hamill said no one thinks it was the intent to allow for the loophole to exist.
But Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Dist. 16) of Chevy Chase, chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, said it is difficult to revise sexual abuse laws because of the complexity of the crimes.
Whereas it is obvious that a bank robber pointing a gun at someone does not mean well, it is harder to discern in these cases, he said. There could be a 19-year-old volunteer or part-time coach dating an 18-year-old student, he explained.
“We have been through this area of law a dozen times,” Frosh said. “We don’t have it right yet. We probably have some predators we aren’t getting and some people in love that we are making predators of.”
Arora said it is not anyone’s intent to capture well-intentioned people, and he will attempt to draft an effective bill.
“I don’t think that I, or anyone else, want to create a law where you have people snared by it who truly are not in positions of authority,” he said.
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