Arkansas Teacher-Student Sex Ban Overturned by State Supreme Court

By Edward Tan, JD on April 03, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

An Arkansas teacher-student sex ban has been struck down by the state's supreme court. On it's face, it's a strange holding. Read on.

The Arkansas Supreme Court overturned the law after vacating a conviction against David Paschal. Paschal, 38, was a former teacher who carried on a five-month sexual relationship with his 18-year-old female student, Reuters reports.

Paschal was originally convicted in 2011 for bribing a witness and four counts of second degree sexual assault under Arkansas Code section 5-14-125(a)(6). The law criminalizes any sexual contact between a K-12 public school teacher and any enrolled student under 21.

The Arkansas law violated "Paschal's fundamental right to engaged in private, consensual, noncommercial acts of sexual intimacy with an adult," the Arkansas Supreme Court said in a lengthy opinion.

The Court reasoned that because both Paschal and the female student were above the legal age of consent at the time of their relationship, the law failed to pass strict-scrutiny.

Strict scrutiny is a type of review standard used by courts whenever a law implicates a person's constitutional rights. It's a tough standard to pass because it basically requires a law to serve a compelling state goal and be narrowly tailored towards that goal.

The Court found that even though the law was likely designed to prevent teachers from abusing their position to have sex with students, the law itself didn't state this as its goal.

And even if it did, the law itself wasn't narrowly tailored towards this goal since it left open the possibility that two consenting adults could be prevented from having a relationship.

Paschal first met the female student when she was in his tenth grade class at Elkins High School in northern Arkansas. The student later became his classroom assistant and even offered to babysit Paschal's children.

In 2009, the two began a sexual affair while the student was still a senior in high school.

Some critics fear that the ruling will give teachers a constitutional right to engage in sexual relationships with students. This sentiment was echoed in Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Robert Brown's dissenting opinion.

But the Court states their ruling simply allows consenting adults, like Paschal and his adult student, to engage in relationships with each other. Nothing more.

There is no word yet on whether the state will appeal the Court's decision to overturn the Arkansas teacher-student sex ban.

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