Presumption of Guilt: The Consequences of False Rape Claims

A former softball coach and teacher once charged with rape and sexual battery pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor this week. The felony sex crime charges against Tyler Lee Patterson, 27, were dismissed after the man's accuser recanted the majority of her statement against him. Patterson pleaded no contest to a single count of Acts Resulting in Gross Injury, a misdemeanor that encompasses crimes such as public indecency and outraging public morals. A "no contest" plea is not an admission of guilt; rather it is an acknowledgment that evidence would likely lead to conviction. It allows the defendant to skip the time and expense of a trial he or she would likely lose while still denying guilt. But for the former Westville High School teacher and coach, the recanted testimony and dismissed charges may be too little too late. In September 2013, Patterson resigned from his position with Westville Public Schools after police began an investigation into allegations of an inappropriate relationship with a 16-year-old student. The girl and her mother told police that the teen and the teacher had been talking over Facebook, and the girl said that she and her teacher had sex "around ten times." Although a 16-year-old has reached the age of consent in Oklahoma, the state's statutory rape laws prevent people under custody or supervision of certain entities from consenting to sex with employees of those entities. Students under the age of 20 cannot legally consent to sex with any employee aged 18 or older of the same district or school system. After the girl's accusations, Patterson resigned from his teaching position and the Oklahoma Department of Education revoked his teaching license. He was jailed and forced to endure the costs of  bail, attorneys, fees, and other court costs. His reputation was tarnished, and even now, after the charges against him were dropped, an internet search of his name turns up the initial rape and sexual  battery charge first, with the dismissal and the no-contest misdemeanor plea buried beneath the more scintillating headlines. Reports say that Patterson admitted to having an "inappropriate relationship" with the student. That does not mean that he had an illegal relationship with the girl, which the dismissal of second degree rape and sexual battery charges indicates. Perhaps a professional relationship became too friendly. A teacher who doesn't know appropriate boundaries likely should find another profession; however, he or she doesn't deserve to be presumed guilty of a crime and treated as a sex offender without due process. In any story, there is more than meets the eye. While the public may jump to conclusions--or be led to conclusions by media reports and gossip--in the eyes of the law, the presumption of innocence must prevail.

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