Sean Arlis Williams, a 31-year-old junior high teacher in the Fort Worth suburb of Everman, was sending sexually explicit texts his 13-year-old female student. Even though the facts of the case are pretty gross, the Tarrant County district attorney has dropped charges against Williams.
What's important to remember here is the "sext" and "sexting" in this case just refers to text messages that were "talking about if either of them walked around naked in their homes, keeping the relationship secret until the victim graduates, dreams that each of them had about each other, virginity and showing restraint while they are in the classroom" the affidavit stated. The Forth Worth Telegram states that photographs were exchanged, but those do not include pornography.
Prosecutors and authorities first arrested Williams on the charge of online solicitation of a minor, a charge that was later changed to improper relationship between an educator and a student. But the DA dropped charges against Williams this month, citing an appeals court ruling from this past October. "The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in October that a 2005 statute, which made sexually explicit online communication between an adult and minor illegal, violates the First Amendment right to free speech," the Fort Worth Telegram reports.
That opinion argued that the 2005 statute was 1) protecting children against things that other statues cover (like obscenity, and pornography), and 2) too broad and needed to be written more narrowly. The way it is written now, the court argued, could mean that Miley Cyrus might be an offender:
But it also includes sexually explicit literature such as Lolita, 50 Shades of Grey, Lady Chatterly’s Lover and Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida. It includes sexually explicit television shows, movies, and performances such as The Tudors, Rome, Eyes Wide Shut, Basic Instinct, Janet Jackson’s “Wardrobe Malfunction” during the 2004 Super Bowl, and Miley Cyrus’s “twerking” during the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards
The bottom line: the law is too broad and there are a myriad of other laws (e.g. solicitation of a minor) that prosecutors should pursue. Had Williams tried to meet with his student or texted something more obscene, charging him under that statute would have been appropriate. Ergo, if Texas wants to protect minors against sexting from adults, the law needs to me spelled out more clearly, the court's opinion says.
"The recent opinion by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has certainly caused us to re-examine a handful of cases and, where appropriate, seek to re-indict them under … online solicitation of a minor," Melody MacDonald, a spokeswoman for the Tarrant County DA told the Telegram. "In this particular case, however, the facts didn’t fit that statute and that wasn’t an option." MacDonald added.
Williams still has his teaching certification. "Williams’ certification is under review by the State Board of Education’s Professional Discipline Unit, according to Texas Education Agency records," the Telegram adds.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.