Interesting Defense

A few nights ago, I watched the movie ‘That’s My Boy.’ The movie stars Adam Sandler as Donny Berger. In a flashback to 1984, a 7th-grade Donny hits on the hottest teacher in school, Ms. McGarricle, played by Eva Amurri (Amurri is Susan Sarandon’s daughter, which is cool because Sarandon plays present-day Ms. McGarricle).

While Donny’s antics land him in detention, Ms. McGarricle succumbs to his advances, leading to an illicit affair. Of course, they are discovered and Ms. McGarricle is promptly arrested and convicted of the statutory rape of a minor. She’s sentenced to 30 years in prison because the rape resulted in a pregnancy.

With Ms. McGarricle behind bars, Donny is left to raise the baby as a single parent. He becomes a minor celebrity on the daytime talk show circuit and hangs out with other celebs, like Vanilla Ice. Obviously, this is a traumatic childhood for young Todd, who flees Donny’s custody as soon as he turns 18.

Back in the present, adult Todd, played by Andy Samberg, has a successful career and is about to get married to a young socialite. Because news of the upcoming nuptials is everywhere, down-on-his luck Donny attempts to reconnect with his son to make up for lost time…and to see if he can borrow the $43,000 he owes to the IRS.

Although the movie didn’t win any Academy Awards, it was pretty funny. And while Donny relished his relationship with Ms. McGarricle, in real life, most victims of sexual abuse by a teacher are left traumatized for the rest of their life.

We have seen countless headlines over the years of teachers being arrested for assaulting a student. A former Alabama teacher recently accused of having sex with two high school students raised an interesting defense – she had the constitutional right to have sex with them.

Carrie Witt was a teacher at Decatur High School in Decatur Alabama. In March of 2016, the 47-year-old was arrested and charged with having sex with two high school students, ages 17 and 18.

Instead of taking a plea bargain and making the case go away quickly, Witt doubled down by having her attorneys argue that she had a constitutional right to have sex with the students. Under Alabama law, anyone over 16 without a specified infirmity is capable of consenting to sex.

Alabama also has a law that prohibits school employees from having sex with a student. But because the age of consent in Alabama is 16, Witt’s attorneys argued that the law forbidding sex with students was unconstitutional. They argued that there are other laws to protect people who are incapable of consent because of age, mental impairment, physical incapacity and in cases of coercion or fraud — but that none of those stipulations applied in Witt’s case.

Prosecutors in the case vehemently disagreed, claiming the statute was constitutional and necessary to protect high school students from sexual advances by teachers and other school employees. They likened the teacher to student dynamic similar to that of a supervisor and employee.

Despite Witt’s request, a judge refused to dismiss the case. So, hours before she was scheduled to stand trial, Witt pleaded guilty and admitted to the crime. She will be sentenced on July 1, where she faces up to 20 years in prison and must register as a sex offender.

Because it’s a movie, Donny and Todd Berger reunite at the end of ‘That’s My Boy.’ I just hope the 17- and 18-year-old kids from Decatur are able to find their happily ever after.

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Reg P. Wydeven

Elder Law and Estate Planning Attorney at McCarty Law LLP
Hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps from a young age, Reg’s practice primarily consists of advising individuals on estate planning, estate settlement and elder law matters. As Reg represents clients in matters like guardianship proceedings and long-term care admissions, he feels grateful to be able to offer families thorough legal help in their time of need.

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