In a Maryland child sex abuse case, the accused’s reputation for appropriate interactions with children under their care is not a pertinent character trait, Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals has recently ruled.
A man who was a long-time teacher at Cloverly Elementary, a public school in Montgomery County, Maryland, was convicted in 2016 of one count of child abuse, three counts of sex abuse of a minor and five counts of sex offense in the third degree after a trial in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County. He was sentenced to 80 years in prison, all but 48 years suspended.
Several students reported that, as far back as 2001, he had touched them inappropriately in his classroom, according to the court’s opinion. “Under the guise of a warm and affectionate teaching style, [the teacher] allegedly hugged female students and held them in his lap as he fondled their bodies through their clothing,” the court said.
The man appealed the trial court’s ruling for several reasons. One of the reasons was that the circuit excluded testimony that he had a reputation in the community for interacting appropriately with children in his care. “He was widely adored as a teacher and a colleague,” the court said, maintaining close relationships with his students after they left his class. Colleagues reportedly praised his teaching style and trusted him to look after their own students when they were unable to do so.
The appeals court affirmed the convictions. The court noted that the former schoolteacher sought to have testimony admitted that allows defendants in criminal cases to offer evidence of their “pertinent traits of character.” Pertinent character traits must be relevant to the specific crimes charged and they must have some bearing on the likelihood that a person exhibiting that trait would or would not commit the crimes of which they have been accused. The schoolteacher called nine defense witnesses who testified that he was law-abiding and truthful.
So, the court said, the issue it faced was whether the schoolteacher’s reputation in the community for appropriately interacting with children impacts whether he sexually abused them. The appeals court said that most jurisdictions that have considered this question have concluded that a defendant’s interactions with children, sexual predispositions and general morality are pertinent character traits in child sex abuse cases,” the Maryland court said.
However, the court said, sexual predilections are not easily discernible to a casual observer or even a close colleague. For that reason, courts in other states have disagreed with the majority view and have found that reputation evidence relating to sexual behavior is irrelevant to a defendant’s guilt for sexual crimes involving children, the Maryland appeals court said. As a result, testimony from colleagues that the schoolteacher had not acted inappropriately with children in their presence is not the kind of evidence contemplated by character testimony, the Maryland court declared.
When dealing with the issue of sexual abuse, a Baltimore sex abuse lawyer can help. If you’re facing sex abuse charges or have been sexually molested, you should talk to a Baltimore attorney experienced in dealing with sexual molestation matters. The attorneys at The Law Offices of Thomas J. Maronick have experience handling these cases. You can contact Thomas Maronick on his cellphone at 202.288.0167, the law office at 410.934.3007 or via our website for a free consultation.