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Maryland bill would close child-sex loophole

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Local,Maryland,Crime,Ben Giles

A Maryland delegate wants to close a loophole that prosecutors say forced them to drop charges against a Montgomery County high school coach who allegedly had sex with a 16-year-old girl.

Del. Sam Arora, D-Montgomery County, has prefiled a bill that would alter the definition of a "person in a position of authority" at schools across the state -- a bizarre loophole in state law exempts part-time school employees from a ban on having sex with students, Arora said.

The technicality forced the Anne Arundel County State's Attorney's Office to drop two fourth-degree sex offense charges against 47-year-old Scott Spear in March. Spear, who coached cross country and basketball at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, allegedly had sex with a 16-year-old girl he coached.

Anne Arundel County prosecutors handled the case to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest in the Montgomery County State's Attorney's Office -- State's Attorney John McCarthy said he knew Spear from his time coaching youth basketball in the county.

But prosecutors dropped the charges in March because Spear was a part-time employee at the school. And Maryland's age of consent, 16, prevented prosecutors from filing other charges against Spear.

Kristin Fleckenstein, spokeswoman of the Anne Arundel County State's Attorney's Office, said at the time the charges weren't dismissed for any reason related to the evidence.

"It's a loophole that needs to be closed and closed soon," Fleckenstein said. "Obviously, it was a frustrating situation, and it's one we hope does not present itself again.

Spear, who denied having done anything inappropriate with the student, later resigned from Montgomery County Public Schools.

A fourth-degree sex offense was created in 2006 in an effort to prevent teachers, school administrators and other persons of authority from having sex with 16- and 17-year-olds, according to Arora. The inclusion of language specifying that an official must be a full-time employee created an unforeseen loophole, he said.

A first-time offender of the law that Arora's bill would amend can only be sentenced up to one year behind bars, but other sex abuse laws in Maryland allow prosecutors to seek penalties of up to 25 years in prison, according to Lisae Jordan, executive director and counsel of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

"It's not solving the problem. It's making a minor improvement," Jordan said.

bgiles@washingtonexaminer.com

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