No jail time for Iowa teachers found guilty of sexually abusing students

No jail time for Iowa teachers found guilty of sexually abusing students
An investigation into teachers convicted of sexually abusing students in the US state of Iowa, has found at least seven cases in the last five years where convicted educators escaped prison time despite a state law requiring them to spend a period behind bars.

The Des Moines Register reviewed cases in the state over this period where teachers were convicted of sex crimes involving students to see if their sentences were in line with the law prohibiting probation in exactly these circumstances.

However, remarks by judges and prosecutors involved in the some of the cases appear to suggest that they are ignorant of the law they are required to uphold and enforce.

All of the cases examined during the review involved victims under 18 years old.

Chapter 709, Iowa’s sexual abuse law, prohibits anyone who is a "mandated reporter" of child abuse from being put on probation.

The legislation states that anyone who is a mandated reporter of sexual abuse cannot -  if they are themselves found guilty of sexual abuse of children - avoid prison time.

Further, the law specifies that their convictions cannot be expunged once their sentence is served.

A “mandated reporter” is a person, such as a school teacher, daycare worker, hospital worker, or social worker, who is required by law to report any suspicions of child abuse to the authorities.

One of the cases reviewed involved Samantha Kohls, 25, who was sentenced to a one year probationary period  in April after pleading guilty to lascivious conduct with a 17 year old student.

The sentencing judge in the Kohls case, Jeffrey Neary, told the Register that he wasn’t familiar with the nuances of the law in relation to mandatory reporters and relies largely on the recommendations of prosecutors.

Investigators then spoke with Plymouth County Attorney, Darin Raymond, who advised Neary in this case. He said he didn’t believe Kohls should be considered a mandatory reporter because the victim was not her direct student.

However, all licensed school employees, teachers, coaches and teachers’ aides are mandated reporters, according to state guidelines.

The Des Moines Register's review also revealed a number of cases where teachers accused of sexually assaulting students were granted deferred judgments - this is also prohibited by law.

Under deferred judgments, offenders are placed on probation and can petition the courts to have the charges dismissed and the records sealed from the public once the probation period is over.

The mistakes were acknowledged by some judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys who said they were as a result of misunderstandings around the sentencing requirements for such cases, according to the Des Moines Register.

The revelations could lead to the retrial of cases or sentencing agreements, according to legal experts in the state.

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Scott Brown, special assistant Iowa attorney general said under the law there is no way a teacher should avoid prison for sexually abusing a student and suggested the cases reviewed by the Register are likely the result of errors by prosecutors or judges.

“I think there are some prosecutors who don’t know it and that may be why you’re seeing some of these sentences,” he said.

None of the teachers who benefited from the sentencing errors and ignorance have returned to teaching.