Court Upholds Principal’s Criminal Conviction

Principal of religious school convicted of taking indecent liberties with a minor.

Church Law and Tax 1993-09-01 Recent Developments

Sexual Misconduct by Clergy and Church Workers

Key point: In some cases church workers can be guilty of criminal sexual activity even though there is no physical contact.

A North Carolina appeals court upheld the criminal conviction of the principal of a private religious school for taking indecent liberties with a minor. The principal of a Christian academy (a private religious school) asked a 15-year-old female student to “try on” some basketball uniforms so he could evaluate them and determine which uniform to buy for the school team. The principal placed the uniforms on a desk in his office and then left while the student tried on the uniforms. Resting on a shelf in the principal’s office, pointed in the direction of the desk, was a video tape camera that was switched on and recording. The camera recorded the student as she removed all of her clothing except her underwear and tried on the uniforms. The student was not aware that she was being recorded until six years later when the police showed her a copy of the tape. The principal was prosecuted and found guilty of taking indecent liberties with a minor. He was sentenced to three years in a state penitentiary. The principal challenged his conviction on two grounds. First, he argued that the crime of taking indecent liberties with a minor requires that the offender be in the presence of the victim. Second, he argued that the prosecution had failed to prove that he made the video tape with the intent of “arousing or gratifying sexual desire” as required by law. The appeals court rejected both contentions. First, it pointed out that by making the video tape the offender “had the same capability of viewing [the student] in a state of undress as he would have had were he physically present in the room. Through the forces of modern electronic technology, namely the video camcorder, one can constructively place himself in the presence of another.” Second, the court rejected the offender’s claim that he had not made the video tape with the intention of arousing or gratifying sexual desire. The court pointed out that the video tape in question contained a number of other explicit scenes. For example, one scene showed the principal setting up his video camera in a girls’ restroom at the school. This scene was followed by an unidentified female student rushing into the bathroom and using the toilet. The court also referred to a lingerie catalog that was found in the principal’s desk that contained pictures of the faces of female students taped over the faces of the lingerie models. One of the faces was of a student who testified that the principal had often asked her to go into his office to try on uniforms. Several other female students testified during the trial that the principal had asked them to try on uniforms in his office. One student testified that in the process of trying on a uniform she opened the door to ask the principal a question and was stunned to find the principal leaning over as if looking through the keyhole. This evidence convinced the appeals court that the principal was properly convicted of taking indecent liberties with a minor, and that his purpose in making the video tape in question was to arouse and gratify his sexual desires. State v. McClees, 424 S.E.2d 687 (N.C. App. 1993).

See Also: Seduction of Counselees and Church Members

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