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In February, Rare wrote about 27-year-old Sarah Lewis, a Spanish Fork, Utah, teacher accused of plying a student with alcohol then having sex with him. For Lewis, the situation initially seemed dire, and a second student later came forward saying he was involved as well. She was charged with felony first-degree rape; according to the Utah Penal Code, the charge carries a minimum of five years in prison.
While Lewis made a lot of mistakes — like slipping the 17-year-old student vodka and taking him to her home for a roll in the hay — it seems she had the right lawyer. According to KUTV, Lewis’ attorney was Tom Means, a public defender. In late June, Means stumbled across a statute stating that “if a minor is 16 or 17-years-old, the rape charge can be reduced to Unlawful Sexual Conduct, when applied to a person who holds a relationship of special trust: such as an adult teacher, employee, or volunteer.”
Armed with this newfound information, Means was able to finagle the charge into a third-degree felony. A defense attorney at a prominent Utah law firm told KUTV that he doesn’t “consider this a loophole.” He stated, “Legislators have taken the teacher portion out of the equation […] These 16- and 17-year-olds do have a choice, and they have chosen to engage in this.” He also noted that Lewis “will will wear that scarlet letter even after her probation.”
Many Utahans doled out heavy criticism when the story appeared on KUTV’s Facebook page on Wednesday morning. One woman wrote, “Lets see if the Defense Attorney would say the same thing if the 16 or 17 [year] old was their son or daughter.” Another declared, “Never let her teach again. Make her register as a Sex Offender for life!” However, there were others who saw the logic to the sentencing. One commenter even joked, “I blame Van Halen,” and uploaded an image from the band’s single “Hot for Teacher.”