Most of us have heard the comparison between the spirit of the law and the letter of the law. When cases are presented to the court, judges and juries must determine how to apply statutes as they pertain to the offenses. Sometimes, the judgment must take the specific terminology into account and sometimes the court must make sense of potentially ambiguous language. In the case of O.C.G.A. § 16-6-5.1, the statute is lengthy and could invite its interpreters to consider the spirit of the law. In a recent Georgia Supreme Court review, the law was considered with a more literal lens.
A paraprofessional, while employed by a school in Woodstock, met a then 16-year-old girl as he accompanied his assigned student to his classes. The two began to interact, leading to a rendezvous away from campus that resulted in sexual contact. Cherokee County Superior Court subsequently convicted him of sexual assault as it applies in the above-mentioned statute. The law stipulates that school officials who retain supervisory or disciplinary authority over another and are aware that the person is enrolled in the same school commits sexual assault.
Applying O.C.G.A § 16-6-5.1 required the prosecution to prove that the defendant was a “teacher, principal, assistant principal, or other administrator,” but the code also defines teachers and parapros as separate entities. Georgia’s Court of Appeals examined the case, noting that the statute could not apply to the defendant because he did not meet the defined roles of the specified positions, prompting the Court to reverse the trial court’s decision.
Georgia’s Supreme Court then had the duty to evaluate the case and explained that “teacher” is an unambiguous term in the code, so a paraprofessional would not be categorized thusly. The Supreme Court upheld the Appeals Court’s reversal.