Teacher's Liaison with 16-Year-Old Gets a Hearing; the Georgia Supreme Court Hears Arguments over Her Conviction

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Byline: WALTER C. JONES

ATLANTA - No law prohibits teachers from having consensual sex with students 16 and older, according to an attorney for a teacher hoping for her sexual assault conviction to be overturned.

On the other side, the prosecutor counters this is one case where the wording of the law should be interpreted broadly for the sake of public schools.

Their arguments Tuesday before the Georgia Supreme Court took on extra significance because they were made in a classroom full of students. It was during the court's annual day of oral arguments held at one of the state's five law schools, this time at Atlanta's John Marshall Law School.

At issue is the wording of the section of the law Melissa Lee Chase is in prison for violating. In 2006, she was a 28-year-old teacher and softball coach at Harlem High School near Augusta when she had a single sexual encounter with a 16-year-old student. The student testified at Chase's trial that she had initiated the affair with Chase and that the sex was consensual.

Prosecutors argued that consent could not be used as a defense, and Chase wound up with the mandatory 10-year sentence for sexual assault.

Now the state's highest court has to decide what legislators meant when they wrote the law.

There are four sections specifying when it is illegal to have sex with a person - in custody, in a hospital, in a school or under the care of a therapist. The one dealing with the therapist says the victim's consent can't be used as a defense. …