These cases differ from sexual assaults in that while they are second-degree felonies punishable by up to 20 years in prison, they are not sex crimes per se, as the victims are not jailbait. The alleged perpetrators don't have to sign up for the sex offender registry after their release. The crime solely resides in the fact the participants in the sex acts are teachers and students at the same high school. (Colleges are exempted, and teachers at rival schools can bang students across town with impunity, so long as they are 17 and up.)
One of the more notable (and, we might add, sordid) examples was in the Metroplex town of Kennedale, where Brittni Colleps, a married 27-year-old English teacher and mother of three, allegedly arranged to be gang-banged by four members of the varsity starting gridiron eleven, all of whom were 18 and 19.
Is that a firing offense? Most definitely, as it was both a lapse in her professional ethics and her personal life. Of course teachers should not be fired and barred from teaching for having an affair with a consenting adult or even ten in succession, but to do so with even one student is beyond the pale.
And taking on four or five at a time, well, let's just say that should word of such sexcapades leak out into the lunchroom, it could erode her authority in class. And leak out such shenanigans do in this high-tech age; cellphone video of Colleps's orgy was (and probably still is) circulating around Kennedale.
So Colleps was unethical, dishonest, stupid and hella kinky. But is it worth the five felonies Colleps is charged with?
Texas criminal justice expert Scott Henson doesn't think so. To him, prison and/or any kind of custodial sentence is unnecessary.
While acknowledging that the North Texas DAs are within their rights to prosecute Colleps since the improper relationship law is, after all, on the books, he does wonder about the wisdom of that law.
He also doubts that there is any public safety benefit to incarcerating her. "She'll never work at another school so there's little risk of a repeat, and the boys were all of age," he points out.
"It kind of reminds me of the 'sex offenders' on the registry who are actually now married to their 'victims,'" he adds. "The law says it's a crime, but the consensual nature of the illegal act, particularly among legal adults, sorta turns the word 'victim' on its head."
A case very much like that has just come to light in Hudson, just outside of Lufkin in deep East Texas. Back in March, deputies came upon 23-year-old debate teacher Jesus "Jesse" Gonzalez parked way back in the woods with a 17-year-old student. They couldn't explain why they were there, and finally the girl admitted to having a sexual relationship with her teacher.
Gonzalez was hauled away in cuffs, made bond, resigned his teaching job the next day, and awaited trial, where he was looking at two to 20 years in TDC.
But then on June 11, he and his former student, who is now 18 and a high school graduate, tied the knot. And he might just be off the hook now. Earlier this week, Angelina County District Attorney Clyde Herrington told the Lufkin Daily News that the case could now be very difficult to prosecute.
"It could present a difficult situation with the husband/wife privilege wherein the young lady does not have to testify against him," Herrington said. "For now we will leave the charges pending, complete the investigation and then make some sort of decision as to how to proceed."
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Gonzalez's attorney, Al Charanza, unsurprisingly concurs, but also told the Daily News that his client could go back into teaching at some point: "The current circumstances involving Jesse Gonzalez will mitigate many of the concerns in this case if he's resigned his position and may not go back into teaching," he said, and added that "Teachers need to be careful how they befriend students."
Indeed they do. And we don't know if "befriend" is exactly the word Charanza was looking for there.
But even more so than with Colleps, Henson fails to see that the state of Texas will be made safer through locking Gonzalez up, especially since doing so now would also be detrimental to the alleged victim in this case.
"Hard to see the benefit of prosecution in such an instance," he writes in an e-mail to Hair Balls. "Certainly it does nothing to protect the supposed 'victim,' and in fact it harms her by diminishing the earning power of her family."