In June of 2012, charges brought against a Bay City substitute teacher accused of engaging in sexual activities with students were dropped by Bay County Circuit Judge Kenneth W. Schmidt. Heidi L. Lewis, then 43 years old, had been charged with six counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct with a student at Bay City Central High School, where Lewis taught British Literature for students who were emotionally impaired. Lewis was a substitute who taught the subject from January 2010 until the end of the school year.
Investigations began after a female student at the school informed the assistant principal that Lewis had engaged in sex with her boyfriend. Police started investigating the teacher in January of 2011. Because Lewis was a substitute teacher and not under contract with the school as other teachers are over the course of the summer, Judge Schmidt ruled that Lewis was not a substitute teacher because school was not in session when the alleged sexual acts took place.
Three 17-year-old teens claimed they had sex with Lewis on numerous occasions during the summer of 2010. In Michigan, the age of consent for sexual intercourse is 18 when the alleged activity occurs between a teacher and student. Richard Lee Jr., Lewis’ defense attorney, argued that because it was summer and Lewis was not employed by the school, it was not illegal for her to engage in sexual relations with the teenagers. Ultimately, Judge Schmidt dismissed all six counts of third-degree CSC against Lewis because she was not considered a substitute teacher as class was not in session.
The Bay County Prosecutor’s Office appealed Schmidt’s ruling; now, the Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled that the charges against Lewis will be reinstated, and Judge Schmidt’s ruling reversed. The appeals court ruled that prosecution is not foreclosed when a substitute teacher engages in sexual penetration with a student on Saturday, after the bell rings, or during summer months. Basically, if Lewis’ occupation gave her access to the student of the relevant age group, the Legislature intended to punish that conduct.
The appeals court issued an opinion on August 27 stating that Judge Schmidt erred in dismissing the charges. Third-degree CSC is a felony offense punished by a maximum of 15 years in prison.
This situation paints a clear picture of how complex the criminal justice process can be. While prosecutors appealed the judge’s dismissal of the charges, defendant’s also have the right to appeal a conviction or sentencing. However, it is critical you work with a Michigan criminal appeals attorney who is highly capable and experienced in the appeals process.