So reports the Tennesseean; the sentence is apparently at the maximum of the legally allowed range, and on its own strikes me as very high. Partly this is because I suspect that sex between an adult woman and a 17-year-old boy is much less likely to be emotionally or physically damaging than sex between an adult man and a 17-year-old girl. [UPDATE: If you disagree with my suspicion, or have further thoughts about it, please post it in the comments to this other post, which is specifically aimed at dealing with that question.] But even if the judge was ignoring that because of sex equality principles, 12 years is pretty high even for noncoerced sex between an adult male teacher and a 17-year-old female teacher’s aide.
But there are some possible aggravating circumstances: A Sept. 29, 2009 story Tennesseean reports that she was on trial for having sex with three students, and that she testified that she was raped by one of them, and that the claims by the other two were fabricated. The jury verdict suggests that the jury didn’t believe her rape story. Perhaps the judge thought likewise, and increased her sentence for perjury, especially since the perjury was especially likely to be damaging to the boy whom she accused in her testimony. (Such judicial decisions to increase the sentence because the judge thinks the witness perjured herself are generally permitted with no need for a separate perjury trial.)
Also, though she was acquitted of the charges involving the other boys (Tennesseean, Sept. 30, 2009), perhaps the judge concluded that the evidence showed she was likely guilty, even though not beyond a reasonable doubt. That too is a generally permissible basis for a judge’s enhancing a sentence for a crime of which the defendant was convicted.
So perhaps the 12-year sentence reflects the judge’s judgment that the defendant had had sex with three 17-year-old boys, one of whom was her teacher’s aide, and that she had also lied on the stand by falsely accusing one of rape. I’m not positive that 12 years is a suitable sentence for that. And if the judge said, as the article paraphrases, that it “didn’t matter if the children involved were 7 or 17, they were entitled to protection at school” as to the sentencing decision — as opposed to the decision that she is legally guilty in either case — that seems a mistake: Surely it should matter for sentencing purposes whether an adult has sex with a 17-year-old or a 7-year-old. Still, the 12-year sentence is much more plausible if considered in conjunction with the apparent perjury, the apparent false accusation of rape, and perhaps the evidence (if credited by the judge) that a similar crime had been committed as to two other 17-year-olds.
Thanks to Elie Mystal (Above The Law) for the pointer, though he takes a different view of the matter than I do. Of course, all this is based just on news accounts and inferences from those accounts — it may well be that there was other evidence introduced at trial that made the judge’s decision more plausible, or less plausible.